Pakistan facilitator, not guarantor of peace, army says as fighting surges in Afghanistan

Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district of Herat province, Afghanistan July 9, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 10 July 2021

Pakistan facilitator, not guarantor of peace, army says as fighting surges in Afghanistan

  • Islamabad helped facilitate US-Taliban peace negotiations that resulted in the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan
  • Peace talks between Kabul the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement in Afghanistan have been stalled for months

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has played the role of a facilitator in the Afghan peace process, not its guarantor, the Pakistani military said on Saturday, as fighting surges in Afghanistan in the backdrop of the US military withdrawal.

Pakistan has helped facilitate negotiations that resulted in a US-Taliban deal that resulted in the withdrawal and is believed to wield considerable influence with the Taliban. The US and the Kabul government have consistently pushed Islamabad to get the Taliban to agree to a peace plan.

"The Afghan peace process has many aspects where it should be understood that Pakistan was only a facilitator and not a guarantor in the process," Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, director general of the military's media wing, said as quoted by the Associated Press of Pakistan.

He added that the peace process was "at a critical stage" and it was now the Afghan people to decide their future.
"Afghans have the capacity and capability to decide their future course themselves," Iftikhar said, adding that Pakistan had "no favorites" among the Afghan stakeholders.

"The decisions (are) to be taken by Afghans and they have to decide their leadership. In case of any deadlock, we can assist. Pakistan has made all-out efforts and could not exceed beyond limits."

Months-old peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement in Afghanistan before foreign troops leave the country have been stalled by a diplomatic stalemate and escalating violence.

In the past week, the Taliban have overrun areas bordering five countries — Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan. The group has captured key border crossings through which Afghanistan conducts most of its trade with Iran and Turkmenistan, and on Friday claimed to be in control of 85 percent of Afghanistan.

US-led troops began their last phase of departure in May, almost halting their support for the Afghan forces that have relied on them since 2001, when they invaded the country and toppled the Taliban for protecting Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

The US combat mission in Afghanistan is expected to end by Aug. 31.

OIC secretary-general arrives in Pakistan on three-day official visit

Updated 13 sec ago

OIC secretary-general arrives in Pakistan on three-day official visit

  • OIC secretary-general to meet PM Shehbaz Sharif, FM Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during visit
  • This is Hissein Brahim Taha’s first visit to Pakistan since assuming office in November 2021

ISLAMABAD: Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha arrived in Pakistan on Saturday for a three-day official visit to the country, his first since assuming office in November last year.

During his visit, Taha is expected to meet the Pakistani leadership to discuss economic, social and technological cooperation among OIC member countries, Pakistan’s foreign office confirmed in a statement.

Headquartered in Jeddah, the OIC is the second-largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations, with a membership of 57 states across four continents. It serves as a collective voice of the Muslim world to ensure and safeguard their interests in economic, social, and political spheres.

Taha was received by Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the OIC, Rizwan Saeed Sheikh, and Director-General OIC Farrukh Iqbal Khan.

“During his visit, he will be holding a meeting with Prime Minister and hold talks with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari along with visiting Azad Jammu and Kashmir,” the foreign office said.

The FO added the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, Islamophobia, and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan would be discussed during Taha’s visit.

“It will also be an opportunity to exchange views on economic, social, and technological cooperation among OIC member countries,” the FO added.

Pakistan, one of the founding members of the OIC, has vowed to continue with its efforts to promote Islamic solidarity, unity, and dialogue in the organization.

Five journalists killed on the job in Pakistan this year

Updated 28 min 6 sec ago

Five journalists killed on the job in Pakistan this year

  • 67 journalists, media staff killed in total in 2022
  • 375 journalists are currently imprisoned for their work

BRUSSELS: Russia’s war in Ukraine, chaos in Haiti and rising violence by criminal groups in Mexico contributed to a sharp spike in the number of journalists killed doing their work in 2022, according to a new report released Friday.

The International Federation of Journalists says that 67 journalists and media staff have been killed around the world so far this year, up from 47 last year.

The Brussels-based group also tallied 375 journalists currently imprisoned for their work, with the highest figures in China including Hong Kong, in Myanmar and in Turkiye. Last year’s report listed 365 journalists behind bars.

With the number of media workers killed on the rise, the IFJ and other media rights groups have called on governments to take more concrete action to protect journalists and free journalism.

“The failure to act will only embolden those who seek to suppress the free flow of information and undermine the ability of people to hold their leaders to account, including in ensuring that those with power and influence do not stand in the way of open and inclusive societies,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement.

More media workers were killed covering the war in Ukraine — 12 in total — than in any other country this year, according to the IFJ. Most were Ukrainian but also included those of other nationalities such as American documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud. Many deaths occurred in the first chaotic weeks of the war, though threats to journalists continue as the fighting drags on.

The IFJ said “the rule by terror of criminal organizations in Mexico, and the breakdown of law and order in Haiti, have also contributed to the surge in killings.” 2022 has been one of the deadliest ever for journalists in Mexico, which is now considered the most dangerous country for reporters outside a war zone.

The group recorded five deaths of journalists amid this year’s political crisis in Pakistan, and warned of new threats to journalists in Colombia and continued danger for journalists in the Philippines despite new leadership there.

It also called out the shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she was reporting from a Palestinian refugee camp. The Arab network this week formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate her death.

The Brussels-based IFJ represents 600,000 media professionals from trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries. The report was released on the eve of the United Nations’ Human Rights Day.

On Human Rights Day, Pakistan urges world to raise its voice for Kashmir, Palestine

Updated 57 min 15 sec ago

On Human Rights Day, Pakistan urges world to raise its voice for Kashmir, Palestine

  • The world marks December 10 as ‘Human Rights Day’ each year
  • Pakistan condemns ‘grave trampling’ of human rights in Kashmir, Palestine

ISLAMABAD: As the world marks Human Rights Day on Saturday, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called on the world to raise its voice for the oppressed people in the disputed Kashmir territory and Palestine.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10, the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being — regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin.

Pakistan has frequently urged the world to take notice of human rights violations committed by occupying Israeli forces in Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza Strip areas. Islamabad has also urged the world to rein in Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, which India and Pakistan both claim in full but administer only parts of the territory.

“Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that brutal violations of human rights in Indian-Occupied Kashmir and Palestine are continuing unabatedly and the international community needs to raise its voice against it,” a press release by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said.

The foreign minister called on the world to focus more attention on the “grave trampling” of human rights by occupying forces in these territories. The foreign minister said Pakistan’s commitment to human rights is unshakable and every effort will be made to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of every citizen.

Pakistan has fought two out of three wars against India in Kashmir and has aggressively demanded a plebiscite for the people of Kashmir. Pakistan also happens to be one of the countries that do not recognize Israel and frequently criticizes Tel Aviv for human rights violations.

‘She threw us into hell’: Pakistani victims of $1.9 million Ponzi scheme narrate their ordeal

Updated 3 min 22 sec ago

‘She threw us into hell’: Pakistani victims of $1.9 million Ponzi scheme narrate their ordeal

  • Victims, mostly women, say they deposited money as part of over 100 ballot committees run by Sidra Humaid
  • Humaid has requested a Karachi court to provide her security after declaring herself bankrupt

KARACHI: Anila Khan, a 33-year working woman living in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, is scheduled to undergo surgery in March but her plans to go under the knife were shattered, when she came to know that she has been a victim of a multimillion ballot committee (BC) scam and has lost her deposit of Rs150,000 ($672), instead of receiving Rs600,000 ($2,688) for her surgery.

Khan is one of hundreds of victims of the Ponzi scheme, which has so far not been officially reported to the authorities.

The BC is an ages-old traditional method of saving outside of banking systems in which individuals pool money, often without any written record. Under the mechanism based on mutual trust, an individual receives the amount on their turn every month and it goes on until all the people involved are paid off their due sums.

Khan, who had been a regular depositor since September, didn’t know that her plans would fall apart until she came across a “public apology” on the Facebook account of Sidra Humaid, the woman behind the now-famous Ponzi scheme, which has swindled hundreds of people, mostly women, of approximately Rs430 million ($1.93 million) as per the victims’ estimations.

“She deceived me. She threw us into hell,” Khan told Arab News this week. “I am distraught and feel like being backstabbed.”

She said she was not even sure of getting back the amount she had deposited in the last three months, let alone a sum of Rs600,000 she was supposed to get on her turn.

In a Facebook post on November 27, Humaid informed her depositors she had “messed up” her committees and was now “practically bankrupt” with no means to pay the amount owed to them.

“To solve the monthly payments issue I had to start more committees and that eventually resulted in a rolling loop that had no end,” she wrote.

“Now I have to pay so much money that I cannot even calculate.”

Her post dropped like a bombshell on members of over 120 committees she was running, with each member pitching in from Rs5,000 to Rs400,000.

Humaid said if she was supported in her handcraft and home-cooked food businesses, she would be able to earn and pay off the amount.

“If my Croise and Daily Bites are allowed to continue and my customers, friends and loved ones still support my businesses, then I would be able to earn and pay off my loans,” she stated in the post.

But the treasurer did not have a plan or offer a timeframe to pay back people she had taken the huge sums of money from.

Humaid also said she or her family had no properties, and they wouldn’t run away, but the victims said they came to know of her travel history, including a few trips abroad, and later found out she had vacated her home in Karachi as well.

Humaid first began inviting people to join her BCs via Facebook some four years ago, according to victims. Members would deposit their amount into her bank account every month and each one of them would monthly receive a consolidated sum of BCs from the rest in their respective accounts on their turn.

Humaid would also create a WhatsApp account of members for coordination after the launch of a BC. All this continued without any complaints from members until August this year, when Humaid started failing to keep her commitments.

On December 6, she again took to Facebook and informed depositors she had requested a Karachi court to provide her security against what she called “continuous threatening calls, continuous visits of gunda (goon) sorts of people” at her place.

Humaid’s counsel, Kamran Alam, told the court that his client was being accused of doing an online financial fraud even though she neither sold any product nor used any advertisement on online platforms.

To pursue their case, the victims said they created a WhatsApp group where people shared their distressing stories.

The WhatsApp group has now turned into a “mourning meetup” group, with voice notes of women crying and desperately asking for help.

“Sidra deceived us only after building trust for many years,” said Saima Gul, another victim of the Ponzi scheme.

“I had several successful BCs over the last three years, which prompted me to start a committee of Rs30,000 ($133) for myself and another wherein my brother would deposit Rs300,000 ($1,335).”

Gul said she was saving up money to perform Umrah, while her brother joined the BC to pay off the loan he had obtained for the construction of his home.

“Not only do our problems remain unsolved, but we also practically lost Rs1.1 million ($4,896) of our hard-earned money,” she said.

Another victim, Sonia Rashid, who contributed to a committee her share of Rs15,000 for two months, said when she listens to the stories of other victims, it makes her forget her own ordeal.

“There is a woman being kicked out by her husband. Another lady said she was contemplating suicide,” Rashid told Arab News.

“A working lady started BC of Rs50,000 ($222) per month for her marriage next November, she cries at night after disclosing it to her brother. You can’t imagine our pain. This lady has robbed us of our dreams.”

Arab News tried reaching Humaid on her mobile phone, but it remained switched off on Thursday and Friday.

Victims say Humaid occasionally comes online on WhatsApp groups to assure them of returning their money. Many of them are not even sure if they will get back their money in the absence of a written agreement.

But Omar Memon, a noted lawyer in Karachi, said a formal agreement was not necessary for every financial matter.

“As per the law, there can be a verbal agreement. All one needs is circumstantial evidence of the financial relationship,” he told Arab News.

Memon suggested that the victims should immediately approach the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), whose cybercrime and financial crimes wings deal with such issues.

“The victims should also approach the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), which may check the bank accounts [of Humaid] and freeze them,” he said.

“The central bank will see if she has laundered any amount abroad and will also check the possibility of funding any proscribed organization.”

When contacted, Shehzad Haider, a deputy director at the FIA cybercrime wing, said the agency had not received any complaint regarding the matter.

Abid Qamar, an SBP spokesman, said such saving schemes prevail outside of the banking systems only due to a lack of knowledge on people’s part.

“People should utilize the presence of the banking sector which offers various instruments for saving purposes,” he said.

Editor’s note: The names of the victims have been changed after they requested not to be named.

Pakistan launches 'Governance Innovation Lab' to ensure transparency, improve service delivery

Updated 10 December 2022

Pakistan launches 'Governance Innovation Lab' to ensure transparency, improve service delivery

  • The lab will help provide innovative solutions to improve transparency through structural solutions
  • Ahsan Iqbal says a hotline and an ombudsperson at the lab will help address complaints from citizens 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Friday inaugurated a "Governance Innovation Lab" in Islamabad to ensure transparency and improve service delivery in the South Asian country, the planning ministry said. 

The special lab has been established at the Pakistani ministry of science and technology and was inaugurated on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day. 

The key objectives of the lab will be to enhance transparency and resolve problems faced by various government departments.  

“The lab will focus on connecting knowledge with action and act as an agent of change within the public sector,” Iqbal said at the launch.     

“Our commitment is not merely based on slogans or deception, rather to take practical steps to eliminate corruption, as developments from 2013-18 demonstrates.” 

Pakistan's planning minister Ahsan Iqbal, left, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of "Governance Innovation Lab" in Islamabad on December 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @PlanComPakistan/Twitter)

He announced that the planning ministry would establish a hotline and appoint an ombudsperson to address complaints received from citizens and whistle-blowers on instances of corruption in public sector development projects. 

The Governance Innovation Lab will help provide innovative solutions to improve transparency through structural solutions to end the menace of corruption, according to the minster.  

“There is a dire need to give confidence to government officials so that they can take decisions based on merit while ensuring transparency without fear of persecution,” he added. 

Dr Adnan Rafiq, a senior official at the Planning Commission, said the government took this initiative to create a collaborative community of multi-disciplinary experts to drive public sector reforms.  

“The Governance Innovation Lab will focus on key governance challenges which include taxation reforms, increasing exports, enhancing ease of doing business, justice system reforms, effective coordination between federal, provincial and local governments and to improve impact of PSDP while reducing leakages,” Dr Rafiq explained.