PM says government negotiating with Pakistani Taliban as militants continue attacks

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021. (REUTERS/ FILE)
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Updated 01 October 2021

PM says government negotiating with Pakistani Taliban as militants continue attacks

  • The prime minister tells an international news channel TTP militants will become ‘normal citizens’ after laying down arms
  • Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan said in a statement last month it was proud of its ‘struggle’ and was not seeking forgiveness from anyone

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan told an international media organization on Friday his administration was negotiating with some factions of the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant network, adding he was not in favor of military solution as a politician.
President Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced last month the government was willing to offer amnesty to TTP members if they laid down their arms, abandoned extremist ideology and adhered to the country’s constitution.
However, the militant network issued a statement in response, saying it was proud of its “struggle” while adding that its members were not seeking forgiveness from anyone.
“The Pakistan Taliban groups actually want to talk to our government for some peace and reconciliation,” the prime minister told an international news channel. “And we are in talks with some of the groups.”
Asked if the Afghan Taliban were facilitating the dialogue process, he simply responded that the talks were taking place in Afghanistan.
Khan said his government was willing to forgive members of the proscribed network once they laid down their arms.
“They will become normal citizens,” he continued.
The prime minister was hopeful a deal was likely to come out of the negotiation process, though it was not clear from a brief interview excerpt shared on the social media who was leading the talks from the Pakistani side, what were the TTP demands, and how soon was a breakthrough expected.
“I do not believe in military solutions,” Khan added. “I always believe as a politician that political dialogue is the way ahead which I always thought was the case with Afghanistan.”
TTP, a conglomerate of several armed factions, was banned soon after its emergence in Pakistan’s tribal areas in 2007 since it started killing Pakistani civilians and security forces.
Inspired by Al Qaeda ideology, it targeted the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and massacred more than 100 children at a school in Peshawar.
The network also took responsibility for shooting Malala Yousafzai, who later became the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, in her hometown, Swat, for advocating girls’ education.
Asked why the TTP was attacking the Pakistani security forces while negotiating with the government to secure a settlement, Khan said: “I think it was just a spate of attacks, but we are talking. [However,] we might not reach some sort of a conclusion.”
 


Pakistan to provide free seeds, fertilizer to farmers in flood-hit areas — official 

Updated 02 October 2022

Pakistan to provide free seeds, fertilizer to farmers in flood-hit areas — official 

  • Deadly floods have damaged wheat, rice, cotton and vegetables worth $2.4 billion in Pakistan since mid-June 
  • A $500 million intervention will help plant wheat and oilseed crops on an additional 1.6 million acres of land 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has decided to allocate around $500 million to provide free seeds and fertilizer to farmers in flood-affected areas for sowing wheat and other crops on an additional 1.6 million acres of land to ensure food security of 220 million Pakistanis, an official said on Sunday. 

Pakistan is facing a looming food security crisis as large swathes of farmland in Sindh and Balochistan provinces are still underwater after the deadly monsoon floods that have cost the country an estimated $30 billion. 

Since July, the rains and deadly floods have damaged rice and cotton crops, along with vegetables like onions and tomatoes, on an area of 9.461 million acres amid a 47-year high inflation at 27.3 percent, according to the finance ministry’s monthly economic outlook for September. 

Hundreds of farmers this week also marched on Islamabad, where they have been holding a sit-in to protest the high cost of electricity and fertilizers. 

“The government has finalized a plan of Rs114 billion ($500 million) intervention to provide free of cost seed and fertilizer to farmers in flood-hit areas to ensure sowing of wheat and oilseed crops on maximum area,” Dr. Muhammad Ali Talpur, an economic consultant at Pakistan’s national food security ministry, told Arab News. 

“This will help growers plant crops on an additional 1.6 million acres of land in flood-affected areas of all four provinces, ensuring food security for the nation.” 

Under the project, farmers across Sindh and Balochistan provinces as well one flood-hit district each in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces will be provided with free seeds for wheat and oilseed crops, including mustard and sesame, along with Di-ammonium Phosphate, popularly known as DAP fertilizer, to grow crops. 

“Currently, work on dewatering Sindh and Balochistan provinces is underway to prepare maximum area of agricultural land for the crops,” Talpur said, adding the federal government was closely working with the provincial governments to implement the project. 

The deadly floods have damaged rice crop on more than one million acres of land and cotton on 1.7 million acres in both Sindh and Punjab provinces, along with vegetables and pulses on millions of acres, valuing at Rs550 billion ($2.4 billion), according to the official data. 

Talpur said provincial governments would be contributing 50 percent of the $500 million project to reach maximum number of farmers in their respective areas. “The federal government has finalized the project after consultation with the provincial governments,” he added. 

The provincial governments are working on getting the projects approved by their respective cabinets and will then give a green signal to the federal government, according to Talpur. 

“We will be implementing it fully after getting an approval from the ECC [Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet] in the coming days,” he said. 

The consultant said the government had also finalized a transparent mechanism for distribution of fertilizer and seeds among farmers in flood-hit areas, which would be conducted with the help of district administrations and agricultural departments. 

“The stock of food grains is enough to fulfil the requirement till the next harvest of wheat and oilseed crops,” he said. “There is no serious issue of food security so far, but the situation can change if we fail to achieve the sowing target.” 


Ex-PM Khan calls audio leaks involving top Pakistani officials ‘massive security breach’ 

Updated 52 min 10 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan calls audio leaks involving top Pakistani officials ‘massive security breach’ 

  • The latest audio clip revolves around a cypher Khan has used as basis of his anti-US narrative 
  • Khan says to protect foreign office’s secret code his government didn’t make the cypher public 

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on Saturday said the recent leaks of audio clips featuring discussions between key government members, including himself, PM Shehbaz Sharif and others, were a “massive security breach.” 

A slew of audio clips, a couple featuring Khan himself, leaked online earlier this week, creating a political storm in the South Asian country. The latest audio clip emerged on Friday featuring Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan and two top aides, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar. 

The discussion revolved around a controversial cypher, based on a meeting between then Pakistani ambassador to the US Asad Majeed and State Department official Donald Lu, that Khan has used as a basis to accuse his opponents of ousting him via a Washington-backed “foreign conspiracy.” 

“Who and what are behind this, I do not know,” Khan said in an interview aired on Pakistan’s ARY News channel Saturday night. 

“I do know that this is a massive security breach. Think about it, the conversations that took place on the prime minister’s secure line became public.” 

Khan said the conversations must have taken place over the phone. 

“I haven’t heard the second audio clip, so I can’t comment on it,” he said, referring to the audio leak that involved Umar and Qureshi with him. 

“But obviously, if there are three to four people [in the conversation] then there would have to be a microphone [hidden] in the room.” 

Khan believed someone was tapping the secure line to the prime minister’s office and it got hacked. 

On Saturday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said Khan’s then principal secretary had admitted to handing the cypher to Khan. 

PM Sharif’s government on Friday said the cypher was “missing” from the records of the PM’s office. 

“I had [one copy] of it [the cypher] and it… went missing or what happened to it, I don’t know,” Khan told the anchorperson. 

He said another copy of the cypher was sent to President Arif Alvi, who had forwarded it to Pakistan’s chief justice. 

The ex-premier said one more copy of the diplomatic cable was sent from the foreign office to the then National Assembly speaker, who had invited the opposition to study its contents. 

“So, the cypher is available,” Khan said. 

“We didn’t make it public because there is a secret code and as soon as you make it public, the foreign office’s secret code becomes public. That’s why we didn’t do it.” 

About his plans to hold an anti-government march, Khan said his party would “give an idea” about their next course of action after seven days. 

When asked whether Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi would support Khan’s march, he said, “Yes, he is our ally. He will be with us.” 


Pakistan disease outbreaks after floods spur calls for crisis plan 

Updated 51 min 7 sec ago

Pakistan disease outbreaks after floods spur calls for crisis plan 

  • Flooded areas stretching over hundreds of kilometers have become breeding grounds for malaria, dengue, diarrhea 
  • Hundreds of thousands of displaced Pakistanis live out in the open, with little option but to drink unsafe water 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is facing a disaster within a disaster as diseases spread rapidly and deaths mount following widespread deadly flooding — a crisis worsened by the country’s weak health system and lack of emergency planning, medical experts warn. 

Flooded areas stretching over hundreds of kilometers have become breeding grounds for malaria, dengue fever and diarrhea, with hundreds of thousands of displaced people living out in the open and with little option but to drink unsafe water. 

In Sindh — the province hardest hit by the floods — at least 342 people have died from diseases and more than 3.3 million infections have been recorded since July 1, state data shows. Nationwide, there have been 4.4 million disease cases reported. 

The flooding — triggered by record monsoon rains and glacial melt, both exacerbated by climate change, scientists say — has killed at least 1,678 people. 

But Zafar Mirza, who resigned as a special assistant to the prime minister and from a role as the country’s de facto health minister in 2020, said disease could prove a bigger threat to the country’s health system. 

“It can kill more people than those who lost their lives in the flood,” added Mirza, now a professor of health at Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University in the capital Islamabad. 

Yet Pakistan’s authorities are ill-prepared to respond to health threats arising out of growing climate-fueled disasters such as the flooding, Mirza said, adding that the country does not have “a well-thought-out strategy to deal with them.” 

Diseases are running rampant in regions such as southeastern Sindh because medical services have been disrupted by the floods and the cash-strapped government is struggling to reach people in need, according to both health experts and state officials. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about the potential for “a second disaster, a wave of disease and death,” and Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal said last week that “we fear it (the outbreak of diseases) may get out of control.” 

DISEASE AND DESPAIR 

The government is striving to ensure that flood-hit people receive medical treatment and working to stop the spread of diseases, although getting access is difficult, according to Qasim Soomro, Sindh’s parliamentary secretary for health. 

He said doctors with support staff and ambulance services were being sent to areas where the water is receding or has done so, with at least 600 mobile teams having been deployed so far. 

However, it is tough for the teams to access and support people in places still submerged, the lawmaker added. 

Floods have partially or completely damaged more than 1,000 health facilities in Sindh, according to the provincial health department. 

People living in far-flung rural parts of Sindh have no access to clean drinking water and health services, said Mirza Ali Azhar, former general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA). 

“The spread of disease is enormous and unimaginable and the ... cases are much higher than (what is) being reported,” Azhar said. 

Even the doctors who are treating patients in frontline medical camps can only work for a few hours each day as they must return to cities at night because they have nowhere to stay in flood-hit areas, he added. 

“The sick people are not getting continuous medical care, which they require,” Azhar said. 

Going forward, he called upon the government to strengthen health infrastructure in disaster-prone areas. 

Some Pakistan-based tech start-ups and non-profits are trying to play a part in limiting the spread of disease by providing emergency access to clean drinking water. 

One start-up, PakVitae, said it had so far distributed 15,000 small-scale water purifiers to flood-affected areas — including Sindh. 

“We are planning to distribute a total of 100,000 units to flood-affected families by the end of October, as we have enough donations to meet the target,” Shayan Sohail, the compny’s founder and chief operating officer, said by phone. 

CALL FOR CRDaesh PLAN 

Pakistan’s response to the flooding and ensuing disease outbreaks has suffered from a lack of coordination between different government institutions and departments, as well as within the health care system itself, according to Mirza. 

A shortage of cash and medical staff and the absence of policies and mechanisms to quickly mobilize and deploy health workers during a crisis are also a hindrance, both Mirza and Azhar said. 

“We need to develop a national health emergency preparatory plan,” Mirza said. 

That should include planning on where to site emergency medical camps, how to establish the local availability of doctors and medicines, and factoring in prior knowledge of disease prevalence by region, he said. 

Such planning should be overseen by the National Disaster Management Authority and implemented in a time of normalcy to boost the capacity of Pakistan’s health care system, he added. 

The country is prone to setting up institutions in response to emergencies — such as the newly-formed National Flood Response and Coordination Center — which are then dismantled soon after a crisis is over, Mirza said. 

“This is also a reflection of our ad-hocism,” he said, urging the government to instead invoke the existing emergency law — the National Disaster Management Act 2010 — to cope with crises. 

As well, the government should engage the private health care industry — which accounts for 70 percent of the total sector — to respond during emergencies and help back up public services, Mirza said. 

Sindh lawmaker Soomro said the provincial government had learned lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and was planning to replicate the model to make the health system responsive to climate change-worsened crises as well 

The province has started work to identify key locations where the health system can “re-assemble and move quickly” in emergencies, and is thinking about how to arrange boats, off-road vehicles and specialist training for doctors to cope with future disasters, he said. 

But for now, many flood-hit Pakistanis are still waiting for help. 

Khuram Shahzad, a 38-year-old who lives in Punjab province, said two-thirds of his village was affected by floods at the end of July. Most mud houses were washed away, he said. 

“We are faced with two-fold problems,” he said by phone, explaining how diseases such as malaria and skin conditions were spreading fast, especially among children and women who were living in tents or in the open due to the destruction. 

Health workers had not visited his village of Basti Ahmadani — located in the Dera Ghazi Khan district — in over a month, he said, adding that people were resorting to seeking help from unqualified doctors. 

Now, “the winter season is fast approaching, increasing worries of the people,” Shahzad added. 


Imran Khan has 'missing cypher' on alleged foreign conspiracy — finance minister

Updated 02 October 2022

Imran Khan has 'missing cypher' on alleged foreign conspiracy — finance minister

  • Ruling party leader Maryam Nawaz says Khan’s residence should be raided to recover cypher
  • Ishaq Dar vows to take mater to logical end under Official Secrets Act

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday said former premier Imran Khan’s principal secretary, Azam Khan, has admitted he gave the controversial cypher—which forms the basis of Khan’s “foreign conspiracy allegations”—to the ex-PM.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government said on Friday that a copy of the diplomatic cypher, based on a meeting between then Pakistani Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed and State Department official Donald Lu, was "missing" from the record of the PM's office.

Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote in April, has alleged Washington orchestrated the movement to remove him from office. The former prime minister’s political opponents, who are now in the government, have rubbished the allegations that the US also denies.

The matter once again became a topic of public debate after the emergence of another purported audio clip online on Friday, involving Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan and two top aides, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar.

“When the current principal secretary [Tauqir Hussain Shah] to PM Shehbaz Sharif inquired about the cypher’s whereabouts over the phone from former secretary [Azam Khan] to then Prime Minister Khan, he said that he had handed it over to Khan,” Dar told reporters at a news conference.

He added the cypher is “an official, sacred document” which is the property of the Prime Minister's House. The finance minister was flanked by members of the federal cabinet.

Dar said the cypher was a secret document whose contents should not have been disclosed to anyone. He accused Khan of developing an anti-government narrative around it.

In one of the audio leaks released earlier this week, former PM Khan’s principal secretary can be heard advising him to hold a meeting with then foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khan and the then foreign secretary to discuss the cypher.

“Qureshi would read out the letter and whatever he reads out, we will turn it into a copy. I will do that in the minutes [of the meeting] that the Foreign Secretary has told this. Then the analysis will be done here [at the PM Office],” the former principal secretary said.

“We will do analysis of minutes [of meeting] of our own choice, this way minutes would be on the records of the [PM] office. The analysis will be that [the cypher] was a threat,” Khan’s former principal secretary had said.

Referring to the conversation, Dar raised suspicion that the cypher was missing from the Prime Minister’s House but the minutes of the meeting were present there. The finance minister said the language of the minutes pointed out that it could not be used by any diplomat. He said the government wanted to compare it to the original cypher.

It has now been established, he said, that the conspiracy was not hatched by the then opposition but by Khan’s party which now stands completely exposed.

“We will be failing in our national duty, failing in our oath, failing in our constitutional duty, if we will not take appropriate action on this,” Dar added.

In this regard, he added that a detailed meeting of the National Security Committee and the cabinet had already taken place, adding that the issue could not be ignored.

“This is an unpardonable offense and we will commit treason if we will not take it to its logical conclusion,” he said. “The decision has been taken to fulfill our national duty to take this matter forward under the Official Secrets Act and according to the law and constitution,” he added.

Maryam Nawaz, who was also present at the press conference, demanded a public apology from Khan, accusing him of misusing a sensitive diplomatic document to harm the country’s interests and foreign relations.

“You have tampered with a very sensitive document related to the country. You have conspired against Pakistan’s diplomatic relations,” she added.

She said PM Sharif had informed her that countries were not willing to communicate with Pakistan out of fear that their messages would be used for political purposes.

“He should seek an apology from the nation for playing with the country’s national interest and waving a fake letter in front of them,” she added.

 Nawaz said Khan’s Bani Gala residence should be raided to recover the cypher.

“The government should raid Bani Gala to recover the copy of the cypher and the original minutes of the meeting,” she said, citing the FBI’s raid at the palatial residence of former US president Donald Trump as a reference.


Islamabad magistrate issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Imran Khan

Updated 01 October 2022

Islamabad magistrate issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Imran Khan

  • Khan has been accused of threatening judge in impassioned speech on August 20
  • Former PM submits affidavit in court saying ready to apologize to judge

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad magistrate Rana Mujahid Rahim on Saturday issued an arrest warrant for former Prime Minister Imran Khan for allegedly threatening a woman judge at a rally in August.
 The arrest warrant, seen by Arab News, includes four sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). These include sections 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 189 (threat of injury to public servant), and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant).
Khan had criticized Chaudhry in an impassioned speech during a rally on August 20 in Islamabad's F-9 park. The rally was held to protest his chief of staff Dr. Shahbaz Gill's arrest. At the rally, the ex-premier promised his supporters he would not “spare” the Islamabad inspector general and deputy inspector general of police, adding his party would also “take action” against Chaudhry, who had remanded Gill in police custody.
However, Islamabad Police clarified that the warrant was issued to ensure Khan appeared before the court in the next hearing of the case since he had missed the previous one. It said the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had thrown out terror charges against Khan, after which the case against him for criticizing the judge was shifted to a session court.

 

 

“Imran Khan has still not obtained bail from the session court,” Islamabad Police wrote on Twitter. “In case he does not appear [for the next hearing], he can be arrested. We request people not to heed rumors.”
Asad Umar, secretary-general of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, warned authorities against arresting the former premier. "Don't make the mistake of taking Imran Khan into custody. You will regret it," he wrote on Twitter.

 

 

The IHC took notice of the speech and accused the ex-premier of threatening her in a contempt of court case. However, after Khan’s apology in court last week, the IHC—expected to indict the former premier—said it was satisfied with his response and asked him to submit a written affidavit.
 On Friday, Khan appeared before Chaudhry’s court to tender an apology in person but she was reportedly on leave. In an affidavit that Khan submitted at the IHC earlier today,  Saturday, the politician said he had struggled for the respect and independence of the judiciary in Pakistan for the past 26 years.
“That the deponent realized during these proceedings before the Honourable Court that the deponent might have crossed a red line while making public speech on 20 August 2022,” he wrote.
Khan said he never meant to threaten the judge and that “there was no intention behind the statement to take any action other than a legal action.”
The ex-premier said he was willing to explain and clarify before Chaudhry that neither he nor his party sought or intended to seek any action against her. “The deponent is willing to apologize to the Hon'ble Judge if she got an impression that the deponent had crossed a line,” he added.
Khan assured the court he would never do anything in future that would hurt the dignity of any court and the judiciary, especially the lower judiciary.
The cricket-star turned politician has faced a barrage of legal woes since his ouster in a vote of no-confidence in April by a united opposition led by his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.