UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

The United Nations logo is seen inside the United Nations on February 25, 2021 in New York City. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 August 2021

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

  • Pakistani Taliban or TTP, in disarray in recent years, are fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government
  • UN says the group has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes

ISLAMABAD: The recent reunification of the militant Pakistani Taliban poses a threat to the whole region, the United Nations has warned in a recent report.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an umbrella of militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and responsible for attacking military and civilian targets especially in the country's borderlands with Afghanistan.

It has been designated a terrorist group by the United States but been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or to flee to urban Pakistan.

Bolstering their bid to re-establish themselves northwestern Pakistan, the group struck an alliance in July last year with half a dozen small militant factions. Since then, the TTP has stepped up attacks on security forces in the region, raising fears of a revival of their insurgency with support from the Afghan Taliban, especially as US forces continue to pull out of war-torn Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban capture more territory.

While the Afghan Taliban have on several occasions said they would not allow the militant Pakistan Taliban — which they say are a separate entity —to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan, according to the UN the group's cross-border activity has been on the rise.

"Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to pose a threat to the region with the unification of splinter groups and increasing cross-border attacks. TTP has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes," the UN Monitoring Team said in the report released on earlier this week.

A United Nations report in July last year said more than 6,000 Pakistani militants were hiding in Afghanistan, most belonging to the TTP.

The report said the group had linked up with the Afghan-based affiliate of the Islamic State group or Daesh, which had its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.

The TTP has claimed responsibility for many high-profile assaults in Pakistan, including an armed attack on a school in Peshawar in 2014 in which 134 children and 19 adults were killed. The TTP also claimed the 2012 shooting of then teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, targeted for her campaign against Taliban efforts to deny girls education.

Pakistan began fencing its 2,600 km porous border with Afghanistan in 2017 to prevent militants crossing into the country and says it has completed nearly 90 percent of the work.


Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

Updated 57 min 53 sec ago

Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

  • Health chief reports ‘significant gains’ in initiative with zero cases in seven months
  • Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world with circulating wild poliovirus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched a week-long national anti-polio immunization drive on Monday, its third this year, to vaccinate over 40 million children under five years of age after making “significant gains” against the crippling disease in the past seven months, officials said.
The South Asian nation of over 220 million people had resumed its anti-polio drive in June, months after halting it due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which had overwhelmed the country’s health system, and amid threats to the campaign by militants who often target polio teams, alleging that the initiative is a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, with circulating wild poliovirus, which has been eradicated elsewhere, attesting to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
“The program has made significant gains with not a single case being reported for seven months, giving us a unique opportunity to achieve polio eradication,” Dr. Faisal Sultan, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health, said in a statement on Monday.
In the latest chapter, nearly 2,90,000 polio workers will visit people’s homes while adhering to strict COVID-19 health protocols, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program (PPEP) said.
Along with being inoculated with the polio vaccine, the children will also receive an extra dose of Vitamin A.
Dr. Shahzad Baig, a PPEP coordinator, said that the “campaign is vital for Pakistan’s ability to achieve polio eradication” after only one case was reported this year compared to 75 last year.
The PPEP statement added that the significant reduction in cases was also due to “a decrease in positive environmental samples from 55 percent to 12 percent,” highlighting that poliovirus is “less active” in the country.
“This is one of the lowest levels of detected wild poliovirus in the history of the country. It is vital that this opportunity to finally eradicate polio from Pakistan is seized,” the statement said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease mainly affecting children under five years of age. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.


Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

Updated 20 September 2021

Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

  • Lt-Gen Akbar briefs Al-Duailej on Pakistan’s anti-virus vaccination measures, progress in curbing COVID-19 outbreak 
  • Officials also discussed prioritization of flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia held talks with the head of the Kingdom’s civil aviation authority on Sunday to apprise him of progress in the COVID-19 situation across the South Asian nation and its readiness to resume direct flights between the two countries.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar also briefed Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej, president of Saudi’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), of the “robust and successful” vaccination program to limit the outbreak, Pakistan’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia remain stranded at home due to travel and flight restrictions imposed by the Kingdom since last year.
In August, Saudi Arabia lifted an entry ban on expatriates from 20 countries, including Pakistan, with its Foreign Ministry saying the decision only applied to those individuals who had been fully vaccinated in Saudi Arabia before leaving for their home country.
“[The officials spoke about] resumption of direct flights for people vaccinated with first Covid-19 dose in the Kingdom and second in Pakistan with Saudi approved vaccines,” the Embassy said.
The officials also discussed prioritizing flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan.

 


Al-Duailej, for his part, assured ambassador Akbar that “the proposals will be considered favorably” after consultation with health authorities in the Kingdom, and a solution will be “worked out” to address the plight of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi.

 

 


It follows a meeting in July between the foreign ministers of the two countries who discussed how to ease COVID-19 travel curbs.
Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi took up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who was on a one-day visit to Pakistan.
The Kingdom’s direct entry ban was imposed after a global surge in cases linked to variants detected in England, South Africa and Brazil and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide might be less effective against them.
Those seeking to return to the Kingdom must undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from infection.
“Approval for PIA’s [Pakistan International Airline] arrangements for institutional quarantine in KSA to help facilitate direct flights for individuals vaccinated with Sinovac & Sinopharm,” the Embassy said.
Thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mainly for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah.
The Kingdom is home to over 2.5 Pakistanis who make the largest contribution to the country’s foreign remittances each year.

 


Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

Updated 20 September 2021

Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

  • Pakistan’s energy and food import bills increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively in July-August 
  • Analysts forecast CAD will exceed 3 percent of Pakistan’s GDP by the end of current fiscal year 

KARACHI: Swelling energy and food import bills are posing a challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments, experts say, as the country’s current account deficit may reach unsustainable levels by the end of the ongoing fiscal year.

Pakistan’s imports in the first two months of the current fiscal year 2021-22 grew by 74 percent to $12.2 billion, compared with the same period last year. The main contributors to the growth were energy and food, whose import bills have increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively. 
During July-August, the South Asian nation imported petroleum goods worth $3 billion and food worth $1.5 billion, mainly wheat and sugar.
The growth in imports has widened the country’s current account deficit during July-August to $2.29 billion, as compared with $838 million in the same period last year. 

“Tt shows that the economy is consuming more than producing,” Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment (PKI), told Arab News on Sunday. “The CAD more than 3 percent of GDP will not be sustainable.”

While the central bank attributes the rise in CAD to increasing global commodity prices and Pakistan’s economic recovery, analysts forecast it will cross the 3 percent mark by the end of the current fiscal year.
“We expect CAD to clock-in at $10 billion to $11 billion in FY22,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said. “Any further uptick in the overall food and energy import will only put further pressure on the external account.”

To arrest the rise in CAD, Tariq added, Pakistan should increase production.

“Pakistan needs to increase production from agriculture and industrial sectors, substitute imports and curtail non-essential consumption/imports like automobiles etc.,” he said.

But Arif Nadeem, chief executive of Pakistan Agriculture Coalition (PAC), a body that works for the transformation of the agriculture sector, says agricultural production is already high.

“Pakistan has produced bumper wheat crop, highest ever, this year and there is no shortage of the sugar as well in the country,” he told Arab News. “Pakistan is also beefing up stocks of the commodities as other countries did in wake of lockdowns imposed after the coronavirus pandemic to avoid inflation.”

He said rising commodity prices in the international market were responsible for the high food import bills and to address the country’s food security farmers should be offered better prices for their produce.

“If international prices are given to our farmers they will work more,” Nadeem said, “(they will) use good quality fertilizers and seeds, resultantly produce more wheat, oil seeds, sugarcane, and cotton.”


Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

Updated 20 September 2021

Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

  • Government wants to introduce electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023
  • Election Commission of Pakistan says use of electronic voting machines could jeopardize the polls

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani ministers on Sunday accused the country’s election body of derailing electoral reform by trying to prevent the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections.

Electoral reform has become a hot-button issue in Pakistan where political parties frequently raise rigging allegations against their rivals.

The government says it wants to address the problem by allowing electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023, though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and opposition parties say technology alone cannot ensure free, fair and transparent polls in the country.

“A campaign has been launched to discredit the EVMs," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said while addressing a press conference alongside Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz in Islamabad.

"That is against the spirit of reforms the government wants to introduce."

Earlier this month, the ECP submitted to the Pakistani Senate a list of 37 objections, warning that a hasty use of EVMs could jeopardize the upcoming polls.

The ECP said a largescale deployment of these devices was not possible in a short span of time, especially when they had not been properly tested and provided no ballot secrecy, voter anonymity and necessary transparency at various levels.

“It seems as if the chief election commissioner is speaking the opposition’s language,” Chaudhry said, as he accused the election body of excluding from its report data that is in favor of EVMs.

As following the ECP's report Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs voted against the Election Act Amendment Bill that would introduce the use of voting machines, Chaudhry said it "will be passed through a joint sitting of the parliament" if the government and the opposition do not find a common stand on the issue.

 

 


NZ tour pullout to cost Pakistan millions of dollars, credibility — cricket board CEO

Updated 19 September 2021

NZ tour pullout to cost Pakistan millions of dollars, credibility — cricket board CEO

  • New Zealand was visiting Pakistan for first time in 18 years for three ODI and five Twenty20 matches
  • Pakistan Cricket Board rules out New Zealand World Cup boycott despite the abandoned tour

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand's abrupt pullout from their Pakistan series has set a "dangerous precedent" that will cost the host side millions of dollars, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive said on Sunday.

The Black Caps were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003. They said they were abandoning the tour over security fears just as they were to face the host side at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs) on Friday.

New Zealand Cricket said on Sunday the team was warned of a “specific, credible threat” against them. 

But the visitors did not provide any details about the threat, PCB chief Wasim Khan told reporters in an online conference.

"This is going to cost us millions of dollars. This has severely affected us from the cricket credibility perspective and has set us back," he said. "I think it sets a very dangerous precedent, when countries are unilaterally making decisions that potentially can have long-term consequences for countries." 

 

 

"When we contacted our security agencies, they clarified that there was no security threat to the visiting team," Khan said, adding the threat notice came from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US, and was not followed by any dialogue with the Pakistani side.

"I think the abrupt departure of the team has left many scars for us," he said. "We certainly hope that it is not going to have long-term consequences for us moving forward."

The New Zealand decision sparked calls for a boycott of the Black Caps as Pakistan are due to meet them in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sharjah on October 26.

But Khan said no such action is on the cards.

"Right now, there is no issue of us not playing NZ," he said. "We have a duty to the fans and we have to fulfill that."

Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign squads after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009. It has ever since managed to attract many foreign players, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

New Zealand's withdrawal has put an unwanted question mark over the South Asian nation's ability to host international matches.

Pakistan is awaiting a decision from the England and Wales Cricket Board over the fate of scheduled short tours by the England men's and women's teams next month.

The West Indies is also due to tour Pakistan in December and Australia in February.