Pakistani capital on high alert after deadly militant attack

Policemen wearing facemasks stand guard at a checkpoint beside the Grand Faisal Mosque during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Islamabad on March 27, 2020. (AFP/ File)
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Updated 20 January 2022
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Pakistani capital on high alert after deadly militant attack

  • On late Monday, two militants on a motorbike opened fire killing a police officer and injuring two others in the center of Islamabad 
  • Militants often target security forces in Pakistan, but the country’s capital has largely been peaceful in recent years

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has put the federal capital Islamabad on high alert after a recent militant attack in which an officer was killed and two others injured, police said on Wednesday.

Militants often target security forces in Pakistan, but the country’s capital has largely been peaceful in recent years.

On late Monday, two militants on a motorbike opened fire on police officials who were patrolling the city. Pakistan’s interior minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who on Tuesday attended the funeral of the officer killed in the attack said both militants were killed during the shootout.

The minister did not share more details about the incident, but the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the assault.

Inspector Naeem Iqbal, a spokesperson for the Islamabad Police, told Arab News on Wednesday that the Pakistani capital ” has been put on high alert after the terrorist attack.”

“A comprehensive strategy has been devised to avoid recurrence of the attacks on police officials,” he said, adding that 55 police have been killed in the city in different militant attacks in the past seven years.

“The overall law and order in the federal capital is under control,” Iqbal said. “We are implementing snap-checking and carrying out combing operations in different areas of the city to apprehend the criminals.”

The TTP, which is a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with its own brand of Islamic law. In December, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the Pakistan government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Earlier this month, the head of the Pakistan army’s media wing said armed operations against the group had been relaunched since the end of the cease-fire.

Khawaja Khalid Farooq, a former chief of National Counter-Terrorism Authority told Arab News the militant group is now trying to show its strength after talks with the government had failed.

“They have adopted a hit and run approach to target Islamabad police to create a scare in the federal capital,” he said, adding that different militant groups have joined their hands lately to target security forces across the country.

He expressed doubt over the possibility of any major attacks, but said militants were still a challenge for the country’s security apparatus.

“Militant groups in Pakistan have weakened over the years in the wake of military operations, but we should acknowledge that their sleeper cells still exist to carry out sporadic terror activities,” Farooq said.

“Regular operations against the militants based on intelligence information can help deal with the challenge.”

Security analyst Gen. (Retd.) Ejaz Awan said the Islamabad attack was an isolated incident.

“This is neither a trend, nor a fresh wave of militancy in Pakistan,” he told Arab News. “People should not panic. Our vigilant and brave security forces have already broken the backbone of the militants.”

Best known in the West for attempting to kill Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work promoting girls’ education, the TTP has killed thousands of military personnel and civilians over the years in bombings and suicide attacks.

Among its attacks was a 2014 assault on a military-run school in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which killed 149 people, including 132 children.


Over 100 Pakistani delegates take part in global tech conference hosted by Qatar

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Over 100 Pakistani delegates take part in global tech conference hosted by Qatar

  • The conference, scheduled to run till Feb. 29, is being attended by entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from various countries
  • Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) chairman hopes conference results in Pakistan’s economic development, job creation

ISLAMABAD: Over 100 Pakistani delegates are attending one of the world’s biggest tech conferences in Doha to showcase the country’s tech potential and interact with their global counterparts to share best practices and cutting-edge ideas, a press release by the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) said on Wednesday. 
Entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from around the world converged in central Doha on Monday to take part in the Web Summit 2024 being held in the Gulf nation. The conference, which will run till Feb. 29, will see participants establish new connections, share insights and secure funds for their organizations. 
Pakistan’s Ambassador to Qatar Muhemmed Aejaz and P@SHA Chairman Muhammad Zohaib Khan inaugurated the “Pakistan Pavilion” at the summit on Tuesday. 
“H. E. Muhemmed Aejaz expressed his satisfaction that more than 100 delegates from Pakistan are attending this event of global significance,” P@SHA said in a statement. “And, Embassy of Qatar has played its catalytic role to create an enabling environment for B2B matchmaking.”
Khan said the spotlight on Pakistani innovation, talent, and potential at the event can draw foreign direct investment (FDI) for the country. He hoped the event would also help support economic development, result in job creation and increase revenue generation. 
He said Pakistani professionals would interact with their international counterparts to exchange insights, best practices and cutting-edge ideas. 
“This cross-fertilization of expertise can accelerate growth in the IT industry – allowing Pakistan’s IT industry to enter new markets, new verticals and increase its customer base,” the statement added. 
P@SHA said it had collaborated with Pakistan’s IT and foreign affairs ministries for the conference. The association said it had also collaborated with Pakistan’s top investment body, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) and Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar for the Web Summit. 
Pakistani companies participating in the event are Bitsol Technologies, Crecentech Systems, Cloudpacer, Discretelogix, DevGate, Eraflip Tech, Ideofuzion, Planet Beyond, Reach the Globe, Support Solutions Hub, Sherdil Cloud, SI Global Solutions, Technupur, Verticalsols and Ziscomm, the press release said.


In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

Updated 44 min 7 sec ago
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In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

  • Shehrbano Naqvi saved a woman surrounded in Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Army chief General Syed Asim Munir meets Naqvi, lauds her for “selfless devotion to duty and professionalism” in diffusing a volatile situation 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday lauded a policewoman for risking her life to save a citizen from a blasphemy mob last week, stressing the importance of rule of law in the country and advising citizens against taking the law into their hands. 
Senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, was praised by politicians, senior police officials and the general public after a video of her emerged on social media this week in which she can be seen rescuing a woman from a charged crowd.
The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an. Naqvi later clarified that the dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) or the army’s media wing, Naqvi called on Munir at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday. 
“COAS [chief of army staff] lauded ASP Shehrbano for her selfless devotion to duty and professionalism in diffusing a volatile situation,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. He said Pakistani women are an inalienable part of the country’s society, noting that their respect is enshrined in the country’s religion and social ethos. 
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
In 2011, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Munir highlighted the importance of social harmony and the need for consensus on curbing intolerance, the ISPR said. 
“He emphasized upon the rule of law and advised against taking the law in one’s hands when legal avenues are available for addressing concerns and grievances,” the army’s media wing said. 
“COAS appreciated the sacrifices rendered by the law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of Pakistan.”


‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

Updated 51 min 5 sec ago
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‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

  • The upcoming coalition government’s electoral mandate may not be sufficiently strong to pursue difficult reforms
  • The credit rating agency warns that the rating would be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations

KARACHI: Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday warned of political risks following “highly controversial” general elections in Pakistan that could lead to insufficient mandate for the next government to pursue difficult economic reforms needed at this stage.
The international agency maintained Pakistan’s ratings, including its Caa3 long-term issuer rating, with a stable outlook unchanged after completing a periodic review of the country’s ratings.
“Pakistan’s credit profile reflects the government’s very high liquidity and external vulnerability risks as the very low levels of foreign exchange reserves remain well below what is required to meet its very high external financing needs over the near to medium term,” Moody’s said in the review report.
The agency did not announce a credit rating action but highlighted the “country’s very weak fiscal strength and elevated political risks” that may also constrain the credit profile.
The South Asian nation is in the process of forming a government after key political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), agreed on a power-sharing formula last week.
The general elections were marred by allegations of rigging and manipulation.
“Political risks are high, following a highly controversial general elections held on 8 February 2024,” the agency said.
Although a coalition government looks set to be formed, the report said there was high uncertainty around the newly elected government’s willingness and ability to quickly negotiate a new International Monetary Fund program soon after the current $3 billion short-term loan expires next month.
Moody’s said Pakistan’s ability to secure loans from other bilateral and multilateral partners would be severely constrained until the new IMF financing was reached.
Its assessment comes only a year after it downgraded the country’s rating to Caa3 from Caa1, following deadlock in talks with the IMF amid depletion of foreign exchange reserves.
The large amount of external financing required over the medium term along with Pakistan’s very low reserves position imply material default risks if there were funding delays from the IMF and other partners.
“Social pressures and weaknesses in governance may also raise challenges in meeting criteria for future IMF funding,” the agency said.
The agency warned that the rating would likely be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations to private-sector creditors and the expected losses to creditors as a result of any restructuring were larger than consistent with a Caa3 rating.


Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

Updated 28 February 2024
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Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

  • Cash-strapped Pakistan secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer
  • A new Pakistani government may need to seek more funds from the global lender

ISLAMABAD: The party of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to factor in the country’s political stability in any further bailout talks, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Khan’s party has sent a letter to the IMF detailing its position, two senior sources in Khan’s party with knowledge of the letter said.
Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to recover from an economic crisis and secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer. Analysts say that a new government — which Khan’s opponents are expected to form after this month’s national election — may need to seek more funds from the global lender.


After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

Updated 28 February 2024
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After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

  • X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Feb. 8 elections
  • X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about state of democratic freedoms

ISLAMABAD: After being inaccessible for millions of Pakistanis for 11 consecutive days, many users reported they were able to use the social media platform X without enabling a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on Wednesday morning. 

X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Pakistan’s Feb. 8 general election. The admission came as former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties staged protests countrywide, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rigged elections, which it denies. Mobile phone services were also shut down on polling day over security threats. 

X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country, with the United States and several international organizations urging Pakistan to provide unhindered Internet access and leading digital rights activists calling the blockade a “blatant violation” of civil liberties. 

On Wednesday afternoon, multiple Arab News staffers were able to access X without a VPN, which can mask the identity and location of users to help access websites and services that may be blocked in a certain region. 

VPNs have become increasingly popular in the days since access to X was cut off for much of the country but software application Surfshark reported this week the Pakistan government was working to restrict VPN as well, which the company’s engineers were working to bypass. 

“Twitter (X) is working without VPN in #Pakistan,” journalist Shiraz Hassan said on X. 

A day earlier on Tuesday, Internet observatory group Netblocks said metrics showed X had remained restricted in Pakistan into a tenth day, “as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms.” 

Before the latest blockade, Pakistan experienced multiple Internet disruptions in recent weeks that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible. Recent occurrences were on Jan. 20, Jan. 7 and Dec. 17, when Khan’s PTI party was holding virtual events. The government had blamed those disruptions on “technical glitches.” 

Such shutdowns have previously had a devastating impact on Pakistan’s economy. The day after Khan’s arrest in May last year, Reuters reported that point-of-sale transactions routed through Pakistan’s main digital payment systems fell by around 50 percent according to the region’s two largest payments system operators, 1LINK and Habib Bank Limited.

According to the Internet Society’s monitor Pulse, it is becoming an increasingly common tactic for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level to either control civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, sway the results of general elections or to gain strategic advantages in territories with ongoing wars.