Shootout in near Afghan border kills 7 Pakistani soldiers, 5 militants

A Pakistani soldier patrols next to newly fenced border fencing along with Afghan's Paktika province border in Angoor Adda in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal agency on Oct. 18, 2017. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Shootout in near Afghan border kills 7 Pakistani soldiers, 5 militants

  • Pakistani Taliban released a statement claiming responsibility for the incident and saying they had ambushed the troops
  • Pakistan's national security adviser says militants are exploiting the fluid situation in Afghanistan to target Pakistani troops

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's military raided a militant hideout in the country's restive northwestern region bordering Afghanistan, triggering a shootout that killed seven soldiers and five insurgents, the military said Wednesday.
The Pakistani Taliban released a statement claiming responsibility for the incident and saying they had ambushed the troops. The militant group — which is separate from the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan — has been fighting the Pakistani government for several years.
A statement from the military said the overnight raid took place in the district of South Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a former tribal region that was a haven for militants from both sides of the border until 2017, when the Pakistani army declared it had cleared the region of insurgents following several operations.
The military provided no further details on the overnight raid and only said a search operation was still in progress.
Pakistan's national security adviser Moeed Yusuf confirmed the attack, telling reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that he hoped the new Taliban government in Afghanistan would not allow any militant group, including the Pakistani Taliban — known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP — to use the Afghan soil for attacks against Pakistan or any other country.
Yusuf said militants along the border were exploiting the fluid situation in Afghanistan to target Pakistani troops. “We made it very clear (to the Afghan Taliban) that we won't accept any terrorism from Afghan soil," he said.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed condemned the latest attack. He paid tribute to the martyred soldiers and pledged that the Pakistani military operations against terrorists would continue in South Waziristan.
Despite the military's claim that the region had been cleared of militants, South Waziristan still sees sporadic attacks, mainly targeting Pakistani security forces. Pakistan has blamed the country's outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan for most of the attacks.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,400-kilometer-long border that is internationally recognized and known as the Durand Line. It was drawn in the 19th century, when the British dominated South Asia. Afghanistan has never recognized the boundary.
Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in a blitz campaign that overrun most of the country in less than a week and seized the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15, the two neighboring countries regularly traded accusations, blaming the other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along the porous frontier.
Since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, there have been mounting concerns that this would embolden the Pakistani Taliban to stage more attacks and threaten the government in Islamabad.
A few years ago, Islamabad started building a fence along the border, insisting it seeks to prevent cross-border attacks. The authorities say the fence is 90% complete.


Pakistan’s president calls his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia 'exemplary'

Updated 13 sec ago

Pakistan’s president calls his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia 'exemplary'

  • President Arif Alvi applauded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ingeniously setting the strategic direction of his country
  • Saudi envoy to Pakistan says the kingdom has always stood by Pakistan in thick and thin since August 1947

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Thursday described his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia as “exemplary,” saying that the kingdom had always helped Pakistan in difficult times and the entire Muslim world looked toward it for leadership.
Addressing a seminar in Islamabad to mark Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, Alvi said the two countries had always enjoyed a strong relationship that was firmly rooted in Islamic values and cultural affinities.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia also decided to establish a supreme coordination council during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the kingdom last May to provide a strategic direction to their relationship.
“Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistan at every critical stage,” Alvi said. “The kingdom even stood by us after the nuclear tests [of May 1998] when everyone was trying to isolate us.”
“Pakistanis love every bit of the Saudi land,” he continued. “This love between the peoples of the two countries is ideological and will remain forever.”
The Pakistani president said there was an “exemplary” cooperation between the two states on all international forums.
“I feel that the whole Muslim ummah looks toward Saudi Arabia for leadership,” he said. “The kingdom has been the leader of the Muslim world and is still continuing to play that role effectively.”
Appreciating Saudi Vision 2030, a framework to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy, Alvi said it would bring about a historical change and constitute a major turning point for the Arab country.
“Saudi vision 2030 will lead to a historic change and I pray for its success. Neom city [that plans to incorporate smart city technologies and function as a tourist destination] will be a unique place for the whole world,” he said, adding that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had skillfully developed the vision for the future of his kingdom.
Pakistan’s information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who was also present at the gathering, said the bilateral relations between the two countries had entered a new phase under the leadership of the Pakistani prime minister and the Saudi crown prince.
Recounting the history of these ties, he said that Saudi Arabia had supported the All India Muslim League before August 1947 by donating £10,000 on the appeal of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to deal with a crippling famine in Bengal.
“The kingdom also helped Pakistan with its membership of the United Nations after the independence,” he added.
Pakistan’s religious affairs minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri said that every Pakistani’s heart and soul were connected to the holy land.
“On behalf of the Pakistani nation, I would like to appreciate the services rendered by the Saudi leadership to the pilgrims during Hajj and Umrah,” he said.
The kingdom’s ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki said Pakistan was one of the most important Muslim countries which enjoyed deep political, cultural, defense and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia.
“We have always stood by Pakistan in thick and thin since its independence,” Al-Malik told Arab News on the sidelines of the event.
He said the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the kingdom in May played a vital role in strengthening this relationship.
“The agreement to establish the Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council showed the depth and importance of the relationship between the two countries,” he added.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, who organized the event, praised the Saudi leadership for showing unconditional love and respect for his country.
“The two countries have remained close partners in all circumstances,” he said.


Islamabad court to frame charges against suspects in Noor Mukadam case on Oct 6

Updated 23 September 2021

Islamabad court to frame charges against suspects in Noor Mukadam case on Oct 6

  • A public prosecutor says every suspect denies charges in the court and the same thing was also expected in this time
  • The Islamabad High Court has reserved its judgment in the bail application of Zahir Jaffer’s parents after completion of arguments

ISLAMABAD: A local court in Islamabad on Thursday announced to frame charges against all twelve suspects, including prime accused Zahir Zakir Jaffer, in the gruesome beheading of Noor Mukadam two months ago while another court reserved its judgment on the bail application of Zahir’s parents.
In a district and sessions court in the federal capital, Additional Sessions Judge Ata Rabbani formally started the murder trial by distributing the copies of challan – or charge sheet – among the suspects.
At least six accused in the case, including the owner of Therapy Works counseling center, appeared before the court on Thursday on their own as they have all been on bail.
The judge directed the police to submit a complete challan in the case by October 6 so that charges could be framed against all the suspects.
The purpose of framing a charge is to give intimation to the accused of clear, unambiguous and precise notice of the nature of accusation that the accused is called upon to meet during the course of a trial.
Mukadam, the 27-year-old daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was found beheaded at a residence in Islamabad’s upscale F-7/4 neighborhood on July 20 in a case that has sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent crime against women.
Zahir was arrested from the crime scene on the day of the murder. He was initially on police remand but was moved to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi city on judicial remand in early August.
Sajid Cheema, a public prosecutor in the case, said every suspect denies charges against him in the court and the same was also expected to happen in this case.
“After this process, the police will present all the related evidence in the case and the prosecution will bring witnesses to get their statements recorded [before the court],” Cheema told Arab News.
The principal suspect’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, are also under arrest along with three members of their household staff for a range of charges in relation to the case. Both parents had applied for a bail in Islamabad High Court after it was rejected from a district court.
The Islamabad High Court on Thursday reserved the judgment in the bail application and is likely to announce it anytime in the coming days.
During the hearing, the investigation officer of the case Inspector Abdul Sattar revealed the police were still waiting for a forensic report of the mobile phones of Noor and Zahir from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The screen of Zahir’s phone was found smashed while the FIA was still striving to find the password of Noor’s phone to access its data, the investigator told the court.
“There are a lot of experts available in the market, you may look for a hacker [to crack the password],” Justice Aamer Farooq of the Islamabad High Court remarked.
Advocate Shah Khawar, who is representing the Mukadam family, requested the court to deny bail to Zahir’s parents as he said they were involved in the murder. He informed the court that the suspect was in touch with his parents over the phone before and after the murder, adding that they knew about the incident and had a link to it.
The judge, however, remarked the call data record could only confirm that phone calls were made between the said individuals but not reveal the content of the conversation.
The court was also told that a citizen named Zubair had informed the police at 9:45pm on July 20 about Noor’s murder at Jaffer’s residence in Islamabad.
Khawar also requested the judicial authority to form a special court to hold daily hearing of the trial, but the judge pointed out that the ordinance related to the establishment of special courts had already expired.
“It seems like you want to delay the case [by repeatedly referring to special courts],” the judge remarked.
Khawar, however, denied the notion.
“You can move a separate application for the special court,” Justice Aamer Farooq asked the lawyer of the Mukadam family.


Italy asks Pakistan to extradite parents of teen murdered in arranged marriage row

Updated 23 September 2021

Italy asks Pakistan to extradite parents of teen murdered in arranged marriage row

  • Announcement came after news Wednesday the uncle of 18-year-old Saman Abbas was arrested in Paris
  • Case has sparked outrage in Italy and been front page news since police began investigating teen's disappearance in May

ROME: Italy said Thursday it had asked Pakistan to extradite the parents of a teenage girl suspected of having been murdered by her family after refusing an arranged marriage. 
The announcement came after news Wednesday that the uncle of 18-year-old Saman Abbas had been arrested in Paris, accused of her murder alongside her parents and two of her cousins. 
The case has sparked outrage in Italy and has become front page news since police began investigating the teenager’s disappearance in May. Her body has yet to be found. 
“Justice Minister Marta Cartabia... has signed and sent to Pakistan the two extradition requests for the parents of Saman Abbas, who are under investigation for the murder of their daughter,” the justice ministry said Thursday. 
Prosecutors had on Wednesday announced the arrest on a European warrant of the teenager’s uncle on the outskirts of Paris. 
Saman Abbas, who lived in the northern Italian town of Novellara, last year refused her family’s plan to have her marry a cousin in their home country of Pakistan. 
While still a minor, she turned to social services and in November was moved into a shelter home. She also reported her parents to police, but on April 11 returned to them. 
Police began searching for her on May 5, when officers visited her house and found nobody. 
Officers then discovered that the girl’s parents had left for Pakistan without her, and found images from a nearby security camera that made them fear the worst.
Late on April 29, five people could be seen walking off from the house holding shovels, a crowbar and a bucket, and returning after about two-and-a-half hours.
One cousin accused in the case is currently in jail in Italy. 


China asks Pakistan to improve security of its workers as ‘precondition’ for CPEC progress

Updated 23 September 2021

China asks Pakistan to improve security of its workers as ‘precondition’ for CPEC progress

  • Demand came during meeting of CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee, held after two-year hiatus
  • At least nine Chinese nationals have been killed in recent attacks in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: China on Thursday asked Islamabad to improve security conditions for its workers in Pakistan as a “precondition” for progress on the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. 
The demand came during a meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), the apex decision-making body for the economic corridor projects.
The meeting, held after a hiatus of almost two years, was co-chaired by Pakistan’s Planning Minister Asad Umar and Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) deputy chief Ning Jizhe. 
“Recently, we have seen the unfortunate increase in tragic incidents happening to Chinese people and Chinese companies in Pakistan,” Ning said. 
“We hope that Pakistan will take effective measures to strengthen protection of Chinese people and Chinese employees in Pakistan so they can work in [a] safe environment.” 

Pakistani government offiicials attend the meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) held in Islamabad, Pakistan, on September 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy: CPEC Authority) 

Last month, a suicide bomb attack on a motorcade carrying Chinese personnel injured one Chinese national and killed two local children in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. The incident took place on the East Bay Expressway in the port city of Gwadar, which lies at the heart of CPEC. 
The Gwadar attack followed the 14 July bombing that killed nine Chinese nationals among 13 people, who were en route to a dam construction site in northern Pakistan. 
Planning Minister Umar noted that Prime Minister Imran Khan himself led security reviews after the recent attacks targeting Chinese nationals in Pakistan. 
“[An] expanded security system has been designed, it has been shared with the Chinese,” Umar said at Thursday’s meeting, adding that he was confident of a secure environment for workers on the joint projects. 
CPEC has seen Beijing pledge over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond. 
Umar said the Pakistani government was fully committed to CPEC and considered it critical for the country’s growth and development. 
In a Twitter post earlier, he expressed hopes that the “JCC will lay the foundation for further acceleration and broadening of CPEC.” 

 


Fintech startup Tag amasses $12 million in Pakistan’s largest ever seed round

Updated 23 September 2021

Fintech startup Tag amasses $12 million in Pakistan’s largest ever seed round

  • The round valued Tag at $100 million, took just two weeks to close
  • Pakistani startups have attracted over $228 million investment in just first eight months of 2021

ISLAMABAD: Tag, a one-year-old Pakistani startup that offers banking and financial services, has raised over $12 million in what is now the largest ever seed financing round in Pakistan, the company said on Wednesday. 
Pakistan’s startup ecosystem has received a major boost this year, with local firms getting over $228 million in investment just in the first eight months of 2021, compared to $77 million in 2020, according to Ignite, a Pakistani government-owned non-profit company. 
Liberty City Ventures, Canaan Partners, Addition, Mantis and Banana Capital and others financed the round that brought Tag’s to-date raise to over $17.5 million. This was the first time many of these investors, including Lee Fixel’s Addition, have invested in a Pakistani startup. 
“With this round the value of Tag has reached $100 million,” Talal Ahmed Gondal, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tag, told Arab News without divulging more details. 
The round comes as the startup builds one of the crucial railroads for Pakistani users. “We are trying to become both Revolut and Paytm in Pakistan...,” the 29-year-old founder said. 
The startup partners with public and private firms to offer their employees banking services, including getting their salaries on the Tag account and Visa-powered virtual and physical cards. It also provides a range of business-to-consumer (B2C) offerings such as the ability to pay others online and top up utility bills that are available to any user in Pakistan who signs up to the platform. 
Gondal said signing up on Tag, which included verification of an individual’s identity, just took three minutes. 
“We eventually want to offer the complete set of banking and financial services to users in Pakistan,” he said. 

The picture shows prototype of the interface of the fintech application, Tag. (Photo courtesy: AP via Business wire)

Before the launch of Tag, Gondal worked as an investor in Europe. He said he had long decided to return to Pakistan and start a firm to serve people back home, but was waiting for the right moment. 
A number of young startups have made splashy funding announcements in recent weeks. Quick-commerce startup Airlift unveiled a record $85 million Series B round last month, followed by business-to-business (B2B) venture Bazaar’s record $30 million Series A round. 
Gondal said startups were finally having a moment in Pakistan. 
“Each country’s startup ecosystem goes through various waves,” he told US-based TechCrunch website on Wednesday. “In India, we saw e-commerce firms like Flipkart flourish in the first wave. Firms like Ola, Zomato and Swiggy and fintech firms like PhonePe and Paytm made inroads in the waves after that.” 
The Tag founder said he saw a similar trend in Berlin: “I had the conviction that a similar thing would play out in Pakistan.” 
Tag says it is now working to broaden its product offerings and hire talent to win the trust of the market. 
“Liberty City Ventures is proud to support a visionary leader like Talal in his efforts to expand financial inclusion for the underserved and underbanked,” Murtaza Akbar, managing partner at Liberty City Ventures, said in a statement. “We expect the world class team he has assembled at TAG to build a regional fintech powerhouse.” 
In June, Tag had closed $5.5 million pre-seed round led by Venture Capitals. It is authorized by the State Bank of Pakistan to operate as Electronic Money Institution (EMI) and plans to launch the country’s first digital bank.