Pakistan and US have ‘shared interests’ beyond Afghanistan — State Department

A State Department contractor adjust Pakistan national flag before a meeting at the State Department in Washington on February 19, 2015. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 08 July 2021
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Pakistan and US have ‘shared interests’ beyond Afghanistan — State Department

  • Says the two nations’ were united by broader counterterrorism interests as well as people-to-people ties 
  • PM Khan has said Pakistan would never compromise its sovereignty, become “partner in conflict” with US

ISLAMABAD: The United States State Department has said Pakistan was an “important partner” to the US on various fronts and the two nations shared interests, including on counterterrorism, that extended beyond Afghanistan.
Pakistan has helped facilitate US-Taliban negotiations that resulted in a withdrawal deal whereby the US would withdraw all troops by Sept. 11 this year. Pakistan is believed to wield considerable influence with the Taliban, and the US and the Kabul government, have consistently pushed it to get insurgents to agree to a peace plan. 
“Pakistan is an important partner across any number of fronts,” state department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday. “We have shared interests when it comes to Afghanistan, when it comes to peace and stability in Afghanistan. We have ... encouraged Pakistan to be a constructive partner when it comes to Afghanistan and our collective efforts to bring about some semblance of peace and security there.”
However, he added that the two nations’ “shared interests go well beyond that: broader counterterrorism interests as well, not to mention the people-to-people ties that unite our two countries.”
He said all of Afghanistan’s neighbors need to play a “constructive role” in helping to bring about a durable political settlement and a comprehensive cease-fire. 
“For far too long, some of Afghanistan’s neighbors have not played that role,” Price said. “And right now, we have made clear that we are going to be working very closely to ensure that Afghanistan’s neighbors do play that constructive role, knowing that it will be a necessary ingredient to what I think we all collectively hope to see in Afghanistan.”
In an address to parliament on June 30, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan would never compromise its sovereignty or become a “partner in conflict” with the United States, amid media reports the US wants to use Pakistani military bases to carry out counter-terror operations in Afghanistan after its troops leave the war-battered country.
The quality of counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan is a critical question facing the President Joe Biden administration as the withdrawal nears, with media outlets reporting in recent weeks that the US was seeking military bases in Pakistan.
Khan told “Axios on HBO” in a wide-ranging interview last month that Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow the CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counterterrorism missions.


New Pakistan political party to focus on economic reform, reduce government footprint, founder says

Updated 13 sec ago
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New Pakistan political party to focus on economic reform, reduce government footprint, founder says

  • Awam Pakistan Party led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi scheduled for launch on July 6 in Islamabad
  • Founder Miftah Ismail says party leaders will hold workers’ conventions, seminars across the country to mobilize the public

ISLAMABAD: The Awam Pakistan Party, scheduled for launch on July 6 in Islamabad, plans to focus on the economic prosperity of people by extending tax concessions to middle-income and salaried classes and bringing down annual government expenditure, a top party official announced Sunday.
Miftah Ismail, one of the founding members of the party who previously served as finance minister, said that people from all four provinces had already started joining the party.
More than 175 political factions have been registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan, though only 13 of them managed to get their members elected to the National Assembly in the wake of the last general elections held on February 8.
The leading political parties in the country pivot around a central leader who is viewed as charismatic by its followers and play a vital role in getting the popular vote.
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-finance minister Ismail, the driving forces behind the new party, aim to encourage public participation in governance and address the country’s fragile economy through reforms and the privatization of public entities.
“One of our major purposes behind forming the new political party is to struggle for the uplift of poor people through their active participation in politics, governance and economy,” Ismail told Arab News in a conversation over the phone.
“We have to extend tax concessions to middle-income and salaried classes, focus on privatization, limit the government’s footprint by encouraging the private sector and privatize the public organizations to reform the economy,” he added.
Ismail said Pakistan had been one of the leading economies in the region until the 1990s, but the poor governance model brought its development to the lowest level in the last two to three decades.
“A specific elite group is ruling the country without the active participation of the public, experts and professionals,” he maintained, pointing out that his party wanted to focus on improving the education and health sectors.
Criticizing the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the ex-finance minister said the current administration had lost the opportunity for economic reforms by bringing in the latest budget.
“This government has literally wasted opportunities for effective reforms in the governance and economic models,” he said.
Ismail acknowledged it was a long and assiduous journey to establish the new party, adding it would also be challenging to get its members elected to parliament.
“We know it is difficult,” he said, “but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
“If elections are held in a year now, definitely we will not be in a position to fully participate in them through our platform,” he continued. “But if we get two to three years ahead of the national elections, we will be in a position to field our candidates across the country.”
Ismail said the Awam Pakistan Party leadership planned to hold workers’ conventions across the country and mobilize the public.
“We will be using social media effectively for our publicity, but along with that, we will be focusing on ground activities like conventions and seminars on issues of public importance,” he added.


How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

Updated 23 June 2024
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How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

  • The two coaches need to lead from the front and protect the players from attacks by ex-cricketers
  • The coaches should also set up clear expectations within the team to make player perform better

NEW YORK: How many times have we heard the words inconsistent, unpredictable and chaotic used to describe the Pakistan men’s cricket team’s performances over the years?

The answer is numerous, although usually the description is followed by the qualification that the team are at their most dangerous when in that state.

In the wake of the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood is different and much darker.

Inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos did not translate into becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united will perform best.

In my view, it is time for those involved in Pakistan’s cricket world to step away from the myth surrounding what it takes to galvanize the team. In its place ought to be a realization that the raw talent that once helped them produce magical moments is not being harnessed properly and that teams in other countries have adopted a more adventurous style of playing cricket.

The big question is how can Pakistan achieve such a transformation? There is nothing new about the current environment. Issues with chairmen and selection have abounded over the years, leading to accusations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe that there is reason to be hopeful.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red ball, are in positions which allow them to make decisions which are likely to be backed unconditionally by the hierarchy, even if it is just to save face for themselves.

Hopefully, the coaches will take full advantage of this opportunity to set their paths immediately. It is not an understatement to suggest that they are set for the hardest task of their careers. I was coached by Gillespie at Yorkshire and know his style is to be calm, which will be of help in this task. He prefers to let players lead while occupying a supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, evidenced by his time with India in winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.

Anyone who has followed the men in green will be very aware of all the issues with the team environment, so those must be addressed first. It is a very insecure one with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not have chosen the two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messaging to be able to go out and express themselves. However, given that two coaches are in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a trusted backroom staff body which is the same across the formats. Time is of the essence to put this in place as pressure to improve both team and individual performances will build quickly. In my view, the environment needs freshening and unnecessary baggage which has built up over the last couple of years needs removing.

One of the most difficult and contentious issues is that of the captaincy. In the current situation, I would play down the power and importance of the captain. This goes against my natural grain but, for the immediate future, the coach needs to be the figurehead and lead. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, so as to reduce noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white ball match is not until early November in Australia, so there is no need for immediate action. However, there are two Tests with Bangladesh to be hosted in August. Shan Masood is the current captain.

Another contentious issue is the selection process and, within it, the role of Wahab Riaz. It was only on Mar. 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously acted as chair, but that title was removed, Riaz remaining as a committee member. Somewhat impracticably, each member carried an equal vote from which a majority decision would be formed. How this works in practice is unclear.

In my view, the experiment should be ditched, with the coaches having the final say in a reduced committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chair, was senior team manager during the World Cup, despite there being a team manager and a coach! There is a public perception that Riaz appears to wield too much influence. It remains to be seen if the review of Pakistan’s World Cup performance will recommend that it is reduced. The results are expected shortly.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee a training camp ahead of these matches to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we can’t rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We need to make sure that we’ve got a squad mentality.”

Surprisingly, the talent pool appears to be small with a lack of ready-made replacements in some positions, so there is a need to identify and back those with the necessary character and skill. One of the options is Mohammad Haris. He has the modern-day approach which surely needs to be injected into the team’s approach and pursued all the way to the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could grow into a good finisher, whilst investment in batter Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast-bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary support to return to basics and improve his performance. In my view, he would be advised to forget about the captaincy to concentrate on taking wickets and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he appears to be on the right path to being world class. I expect Gillespie to provide those levels of support for both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would have been in my World Cup squad, whilst Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be the all-format No. 1 spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batter for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He has succeeded before and I have no doubt he will again, but he is another who needs to go back to basics.

My suggested change in approach for both coaches may not be very natural for either man. Both prefer to have a strong captain who takes the lead while they create an environment which encourages the players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that the coaches need to lead from the front, dealing with the noise and protecting their players from the inevitable attacks by ex-players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are advised to set out clear expectations. The team must become the priority in what is an insecure culture which makes the players think more about personal performances.

The two men need to settle the players in their minds through a combination of hand holding and tough love. Hopefully, a period of calm and support will create a better environment for success.


Joint investigation team arrests 23 in mob lynching case in Pakistan’s Swat valley

Updated 23 June 2024
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Joint investigation team arrests 23 in mob lynching case in Pakistan’s Swat valley

  • The incident happened when a local tourist was accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an by people
  • Pakistan’s defense minister urges parliament to protect people and minorities against such violence

ISLAMABAD: A 10-member joint investigation team (JIT) has been formed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police after a local tourist was lynched to death in Swat over an accusation of desecrating the Holy Qur’an, confirmed officials on Sunday, noting that 23 suspects have been arrested based on the incident’s CCTV footage.
The tourist, Muhammad Suleman, who belonged to Pakistan’s Sialkot city, was dragged from a local police facility by a mob on Thursday before being tortured, killed and set on fire on suspicion of burning the pages of the Islamic scripture.
According to a notification seen by Arab News, the JIT includes senior police officials along with members of the Counter Terrorism Department, Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau to uncover the facts of the incident and bring those involved to justice.
“The JIT has started systematically collecting evidence, working along modern scientific and technical lines, including performing forensic analysis of the CCTV footage,” Superintendent of Police Hazrat Khan, who is leading the team, told Arab News. “We have also recorded statements from eyewitnesses and are adopting other investigative means.”
Khan said the team was investigating the matter from all possible angles to ensure that the perpetrators of the crime do not evade justice.
Asked about the details of the incident, he said that as soon as the accused was brought to a local police station on the fateful day, a large number of people stormed the building and damaged property and vehicles.
He confirmed the mob took the accused, killed him and then burned his body.
“So far, 23 people have been arrested, and efforts are underway to arrest more of the individuals involved,” he added.
The suspects in the case are facing several charges, including premeditated murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, use of deadly weapons and obstructing public servants in the discharge of their duties.
Giving details of the damages to the police station caused by the enraged mob, the police spokesperson in Swat, Nasir Iqbal, said that two motorcycles, five personal vehicles and one police mobile were set on fire.
He informed the building had also been damaged and ransacked by people.
Iqbal said all arrested individuals were local residents, and no political leader had been found involved in the incident.
“In the police report, 49 people were named after being identified through CCTV footage, and over 2,000 others were listed as unknown suspects,” he added.
Asked about reports of police negligence while dealing with the situation, he said no inquiry had been initiated against the Station House Officer (SHO) of the police precinct that came under attack.
He also maintained that all details of the case would be mentioned in the JIT report which was still investigating the matter.
The incident also came up for discussion in the National Assembly of Pakistan where the defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said on Sunday it was parliament’s responsibility to take a clear stance on the issue.
“It is the responsibility of this parliament to unanimously stand and protect the people and minorities against such violence,” he said during his speech.
The minister added that no one should exploit the incident for political purposes, adding that Islam prohibited the killing of innocent people in the name of religion.
“No evidence of blasphemy has been found against those who were killed across the country in different incidents by mobs and, in many cases, people leveled such allegations to settle personal scores,” he continued.
Speaking to Arab News, security expert Syed Kaleem Imam emphasized the need to build police capacity to handle such sensitive situations and to educate the community to prevent such incidents.
“There are standard operating procedures in place to handle such crimes, but unfortunately, the police often struggle to control the mob or secure the accused due to a lack of understanding of the situation,” Syed Kaleem Imam, former inspector general of police, said.
“There should be more mock exercises for community policing to help the law enforcers deal with such incidents at every level,” he continued, adding that police officials faced undue inquiries and feared for their jobs when they resorted to the use of force in such emergency situations.
Imam also noted the government should stop pandering to popular sentiment and take proper action against such crimes, committed in the name of religion.
“There should be no administrative leniency toward criminals,” he emphasized. “The government should also sensitize the community through mosques and tell them that if anyone commits such crime [of blasphemy], they should be dealt with by the police. The locals should be made to refrain from using loudspeakers at the mosques to spread messages in such sensitive situations.”


Karachi hosts vibrant donkey cart race to revive traditional sport, engage youth in ‘positive activities’

Updated 23 June 2024
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Karachi hosts vibrant donkey cart race to revive traditional sport, engage youth in ‘positive activities’

  • Donkey cart races have been a cultural staple in various regions of Pakistan, particularly in rural environments
  • Part of a larger festival, the race witnessed maximum participation from the impoverished Lyari neighborhood

KARACHI: A unique donkey cart race, organized by the administration of Pakistan’s southern Karachi port city to promote the traditional regional sport, elicited an enthusiastic response on Sunday, with over 40 participants vying for the title.
Donkey cart races have been a staple in the cultural landscape of various regions in Pakistan, particularly in rural areas where they are often featured as part of local festivals or special events.
The sport not only embodies a tradition with significant social and entertainment value for these communities but also underscores the reliance on livestock, with donkeys predominantly used for logistical and transportation purposes.
Part of the Commissioner Karachi Sports Festival, the race brought together most participants from the impoverished Lyari neighborhood of the city and was described by the organizers as part of the effort to promote “positive activities” among youth.
“I earn for my children, and I earn for it [donkey] and it earns for me in return,” Abdul Qadir, who won the race, said gleefully. “I earn my living for my children through it [donkey cart] and feed it [the donkey] like I feed my own kids and I look after it, that’s why I got this prize today.”
Another participant, Shahjahan, who stood third in the competition, said he had been driving donkey carts for the past 25 years.
“I have taken part in over 20-25 races and won first, second and third prizes,” he said with the touch of pride. “God has given me respect. Even though I am a laborer by profession, I drive a donkey cart, but by the grace of god I am able to educate my children.”
The race that began from Karachi’s ICI Bridge and ended at the commissioner’s office on Club Road what attended by Mayor Murtaza Wahab as chief guest.
He described the event as part of the city’s “ancient culture and heritage” while appreciating the love of its residents for sports.
The ongoing sports festival in the city also includes a hockey tournament, girls’ basketball tournament, cycle race and shooting ball competition.


Pakistan government accuses PTI party of ‘standing with terrorists’ over opposition to new anti-terror operation

Updated 15 min 26 sec ago
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Pakistan government accuses PTI party of ‘standing with terrorists’ over opposition to new anti-terror operation

  • Top national security forum approves Operation Azm-e-Istehkam as Pakistan faces surge in militancy and mob violence 
  • Opposition led by PTI party says operation cannot be announced without approval from the parliament 

ISLAMABAD: Defense Minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday accused the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of “standing with terrorists” as the opposition backed by the party opposed a newly approved counterterrorism operation. 

Pakistan’s top national security forum on Saturday announced the Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, or Resolve for Stability, campaign after a meeting of the Central Apex Committee on the National Action Plan (NAP) that was attended by senior military leaders and top government officials from all provinces, including PTI-backed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur.

The approval for the operation comes amid a surge in militant attacks across Pakistan and after a mob lynching this week of a local tourist over accusations of blasphemy in the northwestern Swat district.

“Even KP CM was present in the meeting yesterday, it was all decided in front of him, the measures that would be taken against terrorism,” Defense Minister Asif said on the floor of the house as cries of “end the operation” rang out through the hall. 

“Today by their demonstrations they are showing that they stand with terrorists, they are demonstrating against the martyrdoms rendered by the Pakistani army, they are demonstrating against the Pakistan army that’s sacrificing lives in the fight against terrorists.”

Before Asif’s speech, PTI lawmakers had staged an hour-long walkout against the operation, but later returned and began chanting slogans against Azm-e-Istehkam.

Speaking to the media outside parliament during the walkout, PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Khan said the opposition was against the operation because it had not been discussed in parliament. 

“Our demand and point of order is that be it any operation, a full-fledged one or an intelligence-based operation, or be it in certain districts, it is imperative for parliament to be taken into confidence,” Khan said, arguing that an operation could not be launched simply with the approval of the NAP apex committee. 

“No matter how big the apex body is and no matter who comes and sits there, it can never supersede the parliament,” the PTI leader said. “According to the constitution, parliament is the supreme. Our demand is that no operation should be initiated without taking parliament into confidence.”

Senior PTI leader Asad Qaiser also spoke to reporters and gave a similar message:

“In simple and short words, we cannot support any kind of operation … What is this parliament for that you’re taking such a big decision and not consulting the parliament?”

THORN IN THE SIDE

Khan’s PTI is currently part of the parliament under the umbrella of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which remains a thorn in the side of the fragile coalition government led by PM Shehbaz Sharif.

Weeks before the national election on Feb. 8, ex-PM Imran Khan’s PTI was stripped of its iconic election symbol of the cricket bat on technical grounds, and all its candidates had to contest polls as independent candidates. 

After the election in which Khan-backed independents won the most seats overall, they joined the SIC to claim a share in the reserved seats in the parliament for women and religious minorities. Under Pakistan’s election rules, political parties are allotted reserved seats in proportion to the number of parliamentary seats they win in the election. This completes the National Assembly’s total strength of 336 seats.

However, Pakistan’s election commission (ECP) had ruled in March that the Khan-backed SIC party was not eligible for extra reserved seats in the legislature, dealing a blow to the embattled group’s governing prospects and proving to be a major setback for Khan, who is in jail following a string of convictions. 

The election regulator’s decision was upheld by the Peshawar High Court but last month the Supreme Court overruled the verdict.

A 13-member bench of the Supreme Court, a full court, is now hearing a set of petitions filed by the chairman of the SIC challenging the denial of the reserved seats to the party and their distribution to other parties in Sharif’s ruling coalition.