No 'direct talks' with Pakistani Taliban, engaged with Afghanistan diplomatically — security official

A Pakistani army soldier stands guard on a border terminal in Ghulam Khan, a town in North Waziristan, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, on January 27, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 March 2022

No 'direct talks' with Pakistani Taliban, engaged with Afghanistan diplomatically — security official

  • Says group has fought alongside Afghan Taliban for 20 years, therefore Afghanistan will only put pressure to a 'certain limit'
  • Border fencing, increased troop deployment have reduced threat, improved development in Pakistan's northwest, the official adds

NORTH WAZIRISTAN: Islamabad was not holding any "direct talks" with the Pakistani Taliban and only diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan had been ongoing in this regard, a senior Pakistani security official said on Friday.  

The Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with its own brand of Islamic law. The military outfit is regrouping and reorganizing, with its leadership headquartered in the neighboring Afghanistan, according to a UN report from July last year.  

In December, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire arranged with the aid of the Afghan Taliban, accusing the Pakistan government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees. The government denies the accusations.  

Last week, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government was holding talks with the Pakistani Taliban, but the two sides had not reached any conclusion so far.  

"No direct talks with TTP are ongoing but only diplomatic engagement is going on with the Afghan Taliban government to control them (TTP)," the Pakistani security official told a group of foreign journalists during a briefing in North Waziristan.  

“Sometimes, locals informally engage with TTP through elders, ulemas and youth. The jirgas, masharans and maliks also go to the Afghan side to engage with them, we let them do it, so they are at liberty.”  

He said as the group had fought alongside the Afghan Taliban against the Western forces for 20 years, therefore the Taliban government could only put pressure on the TTP to a "certain limit."  

“We need to be very cognizant of the fact that TTP has supported them for 20 years, so the diplomatic pressure that Pakistan is putting on them (Afghan Taliban) and requesting them, it will work up to a certain limit,” he said.  

“We should not have very high hopes that they are going to press them to the level that can create mess and unrest [in Afghanistan].”  

The official, however, said they had considerably controlled infiltration and threat from the TTP in the country's northwest through border fencing, increased troop deployment and better border management, which had resulted in improving socio-economic development of locals.  

Pakistan has fenced most of the 2,600-kilometer border despite protests from Kabul, which has always contested the British-era boundary demarcation that splits families and tribes on either side. The fencing was a main reason behind the souring of relations between previous Afghan governments and Islamabad.  

In recent weeks, there have been multiple incidents of Afghan Taliban border guards trying to remove the fence or disrupt construction work.  

“The fencing has been completed 100 percent in North Waziristan which has reduced infiltration up to 80 percent. Pakistan has ensured security through border fencing, increased deployment and effective border management,” the security official said.  

“Five years ago, incidents took place in the area daily, but now there is a significant reduction in the number of incidents.”  

The statement by the security official came hours after at least 50 people were killed and scores wounded in a suicide bombing at a minority Shia mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, police said.  

The blast took place in the congested Qissa Khawani bazaar as people were offering the weekly Friday prayers at an imambargah. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing. 

Around 5000-6000 TTP fighters were based inside Afghanistan, the security official said, adding, “They do try to sneak into North and South Waziristan, but I will say that the threat is considerably reduced”.  

Asked about the Afghan Taliban's reluctance to recognize the Durand Line as an international border, he said Pakistan had clearly told every Afghan government that it "is an international border and must be respected."  

“With the help of locals on both sides, we were able to erect this fence and there is no demand from TTA (Afghan Taliban) to remove this fence,” he said. "The only thing they are saying is that the villages which are divided, some arrangement should be made for them so that they can move without trouble."  

About development and economic opportunities through investment in the region, the official said it would only be possible by ensuring security and normalcy for the investors.  

“Every step that we are taking towards normalcy it will automatically attract the investors. If there is no peace then no one will come to invest,” he said. "During the last 20 years, hundreds of major and minor operations were conducted in which many terrorists and foreign fighters were eliminated and many were driven out into Afghanistan."  

Shahid Ali Khan, the deputy commissioner of North Waziristan, said the provincial government had increased the development budget for tribal districts from Rs16 billion to Rs60 billion this year.  

“All the major roads have been reconstructed for better connectivity,” Khan told Arab News, adding 173 damaged health facilities were reconstructed and two more colleges would be constructed along with the three already operational in North Waziristan.  

Umer Khatab, an additional assistant commissioner in Miranshah town, said improved security had made it possible to have smooth trade at the Ghulam Khan border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  

"Around 100 trucks crossed the border terminal daily, with seasonal fruit and coal coming from Afghanistan and cement and other such materials going from Pakistan," Khatab told Arab News.  

While locals welcome the increase in trade, there are fears of a return of the horrific violence too.  

Malik Wakeel Khan, an elder of the Dawar tribe, acknowledged the security situation had improved after successive military offensives, but every scattered incident raised fears of deterioration in the law and order situation.  

“It is evident that whenever some incident took place, it resulted in deterioration of the situation,” he told Arab News. “We are also trying and hopeful that complete peace and stability will return to North Waziristan.”  

The tribespeople appreciate government’s efforts for the development of the area, but they believe the funds provided for the purpose are insufficient. “If the government increases funds for North Waziristan, it will bring more progress and betterment in the area,” Wakeel Khan said.  

Malik Riaz, a tribal elder from Mir Ali town, asked the government to get major companies to explore minerals in the region to create jobs and increase the number of mini-markets to benefit the locals.  

“We have a lot of minerals but don’t have resources to explore them. We would ask government to bring big companies especially from the Middle East for exploration, which will create jobs and reduce poverty in the area,” Riaz said.  

Turbat Khan, who has an import-export business at the Ghulam Khan border terminal, requested the government to facilitate import and export by increasing the transit trade facilities.  


Experts, politicians sound alarm as audio leaks put Pakistan national security, PM house ‘at stake’

Updated 26 September 2022

Experts, politicians sound alarm as audio leaks put Pakistan national security, PM house ‘at stake’

  • Experts call for strict compliance with protocols as audio recordings of conversations between key officials leaked
  • Ruling party's Talal Chaudhary called events “serious issue of national security,' saying government taking "very seriously"

ISLAMABAD: Intelligence and cyber security experts on Monday called for strict compliance with protocols as a slew of audio recordings of conversations between key government figures, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, were leaked online over the weekend.

The leaks involve discussions between Sharif and members of his cabinet, including conversations with ruling party leader Maryam Nawaz over the performance of outgoing finance minister Miftah Ismail, and with an unidentified official about the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project for Nawaz’s son-in-law.

Opposition leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a close aide to ex-PM Imran Khan, demanded an inquiry into the leak, saying the results should be shared with the public. Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said in a statement on Sunday the leaks had not revealed that the government was involved in any “illegal act.”

However, addressing a press conference in Faisalabad on Monday, ruling party leader Talal Chaudhary called the events a “serious issue of national security.”

“The audio leaks issue was taken very seriously because the national security and the sanctity of the prime minister's house are at stake,” he said.

Speaking with Arab News, intelligence and cybersecurity experts called for strict compliance with protocols and procedures.

“These data hacks occurred because advisories, recommendations, and precautions advised by the concerned institutions and departments were not followed in letter and spirit,” cybersecurity expert Tariq Malik told Arab News. “All the top officials have to cooperate with concerned departments to secure all technological devices including smartwatches and strictly follow the protocols and procedures given by the concerned authorities.”

Former additional director general Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Ammar Jafri called the leaks a “serious threat.”

“All should take it beyond politics as it is a matter of the state of Pakistan, not any particular political party,” he told Arab News.

“The telephones of all the senior people related to these offices should be thoroughly checked by the security institutions, to find any viruses or such things. Secondly, all the officials should be strictly prohibited from downloading unnecessary applications, and thirdly the premises should be thoroughly screened and it should be done frequently.”

Bashir Wali Mohmand, a former director general at the Intelligence Bureau (IB), said the data of the prime minister’s office was top secret and taken care of accordingly by concerned departments.

“This leak is not a big thing as it has not indicated any direct threat to the prime minister's life,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan last year called on the United Nations to investigate whether India used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to spy on public figures including then PM Imran Khan.

The Pakistani leader's phone number was on a list of what an investigation by a group of 17 international media organisations and Amnesty International said were potential surveillance targets for countries that bought the spyware.


Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics,’ outgoing finance minister to have ‘no role in government’

Updated 26 September 2022

Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics,’ outgoing finance minister to have ‘no role in government’

  • Ishaq Dar to take over as finance minister from Miftah Ismail, investors hopeful he will stabilize rupee and tame inflation
  • Dubbed Darnomics, Dar’s approach kept rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against greenback during previous stint

KARACHI: Pakistan’s currency and equity markets on Monday celebrated the return of Ishaq Dar as the finance minister of Pakistan, with investors pinning hopes that a new era of “Darnomics” would stabilize the rupee and tame inflation, analysts and economists said. 

Dar is a member of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling PMLN party and has already been finance minister four times.

Dubbed Darnomics, Dar’s approach kept the rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against the greenback during his last stint in office from 2013-2017 but he was widely criticized for deliberately undervaluing the rupee by pumping dollars in the market. 

The Pakistani rupee gained in value by 1.11% or Rs2.63 to close at Rs237.02 against the United States dollar in the interbank market on Monday, and gained Rs6.90 to trade at Rs237.50 in the open market following the reports of Dar’s return. Dar is expected to take charge this week.

While media has reported now former finance minister Miftah Ismail will remain part of the government’s economic team, the outgoing official told Arab News on Monday: “I will have no role in the government.”

Speaking to local media before departing for Pakistan from London where he has lived in exile since 2017 when he was disqualified from office by a court in a corruption case, Dar said:

“I am returning to the same office that I left five years back. This is Allah’s blessing … This will be my aim, to bring Pakistan’s [economy] back on track. The economy is constantly faltering and we will try to change its direction.”

Dar takes over as the economy faces one of its worst balance of payment crises, and recent floods are estimated to have cost it nearly $30 billion.

Earlier this month, the government cut its GDP growth forecast below 3% from a 5% budgetary target for 2022-23.

“Ishaq Dar is known for keeping the exchange rate stable for stronger currency, that is why the currency market has strongly reacted to his return resultantly the rupee gain some strength,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Economists said Dar’s return would bring some “comfort” to the currency market and tame increasing inflation, which is at a 47-year high at 27.3%.

“Ishaq Dar is being brought back by the coalition government keeping in view his past track of keeping the exchange rate under control,” Dr. Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The first priority of the coalition government is to bring stability in the value of rupee as the national currency has fast eroded its value against the US dollar despite International Monetary Fund (IMF) program revival,” he added.

Economists said the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif had paid the political cost of much-needed measures taken by the outgoing finance minister, including the withdrawal of fuel subsidies and fast depreciation of the rupee.

“When the rupee depreciates, the public attributes it to the performance of the economic managers. As a political party this has been the discourse at some level and the decision to bring Dar has been taken in order to show economic performance and improve the image in the eyes of the public.”

The government’s decision to replace Ismail with the Dar reflected the coalition government’s need to immediately “showcase” performance “due to the short time available to the election next year,” Amin said.

“Government wants to go into the election with a new image, with a new market and public feelings that it has improved things … exchange rate and inflation, two key indicators,” he added.

But many economists said Dar’s return would have little effect.

“Changing faces may have limited impacts as we are facing both global and domestic recessions,” Khurram Schehzad, CEO at Alpha Beta Core, a startup investment advisory platform, told Arab News. “Options are limited and the economic situation is challenging. So expecting something extraordinarily different from another person would not be prudent.”

Pakistani industrialists said the incoming finance minister would have to deal with a plethora of issues, chief among them political instability.

“Pakistan is facing a very difficult time at the time when Ishaq Dar is coming back … current account deficit, trade deficit, debt repayments, high inflation, and rupee dollar parity are among them,” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Businessmen Group at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News.

“The big problem is political stability ... instability is the mother of all economic evils in Pakistan so he will have to deal with it. Our best wishes are with him and we pray for the speedy improvement of the issues the country is facing right now.”

Pakistan stocks closed bullish with the benchmark KSE100 index settling at 41,151 level, up by 531 points or 1.31%.

“Bullish activity witnessed on strong rupee recovery amid decision over the appointment of a new finance minister, which is likely to stabilize economic uncertainty,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, said.


Islamabad court extends custody of journalist Ayaz Amir, son in beating death of Canadian woman

Updated 52 min 48 sec ago

Islamabad court extends custody of journalist Ayaz Amir, son in beating death of Canadian woman

  • Sarah Inam was allegedly killed by her husband Shahnawaz Amir “with dumbbells” last week
  • Police say Inam’s family is expected to arrive in Islamabad from Canada by Tuesday to pursue case

ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad district court on Monday extended the custody of veteran journalist Ayaz Amir and his son Shahnawaz Amir in the case of the murder of the latter’s wife in Islamabad last week.

Sarah Inam, a 37-year-old economist, had wed Shahnawaz around three months ago and was allegedly murdered by her husband at the suspect’s mother’s home in Islamabad on Friday. The murder took place a day after Inam had returned from Abu Dhabi where she works.

The police arrested Shahnawaz from the crime scene on Saturday morning while his father was arrested late on Sunday night.

The police on Monday presented both suspects before judicial magistrate Amir Aziz Khan after their physical remand expired.

A deputy superintendent of police Hakim Khan said Inam’s family was expected to arrive in Islamabad from Canada tonight, Monday, to pursue the case.

“The police will record their statements, and if necessary, some more sections could be included in the already registered FIR,” he told Arab News. “The police will be fully cooperating with the victim’s family to take this case to the logical conclusion.”

During Monday’s hearing, the investigation officer in the case, Inspector Habib-ur-Rehman, requested the court to extend police custody of the suspects as officers had yet to complete their investigation.

The judge inquired about Ayaz’s role and the inspector said he had been nominated by the victim’s uncle and aunt. He said the victim’s parents lived in Canada and would reach Pakistan by tomorrow, Tuesday.

“We need to determine the role of Ayaz Amir in the nikah [marriage contract], therefore the court should grant extension in his remand,” the inspector said.

Addressing the judge, Amir said he was “traumatized.”

“I had informed the police about the incident and even guided them to the farmhouse where the murder took place,” the journalist said. “Police have not asked me anything during the remand … Have they got any new evidence against me [to seek the remand extension]?”

The journalist questioned why the police were trying to link him to the murder. “Can you [the police] furnish any evidence of my involvementt?”

The court extended Shahnawaz’s remand for three days, while Ayaz’s remand was extended for a day.

Earlier in the day, additional sessions judge Sheikh Sohail granted interim bail to Shahnawaz’s mother, Sameena Shah, for three days and directed her to be part of the investigation.

In her bail petition to the court, Shah said her son Shahnawaz had informed her about the murder on Saturday morning in a phone call. She said she had no connection with the murder and was willing to cooperate with the police in the investigation.

According to the first information report, registered on the complaint of Shahzad Town Station House Officer Nawazish Ali Khan, Shahnawaz’s mother called police on September 23 and informed them that Shahnawaz had murdered his wife “with a dumbbell.”

“My son is present in the house and has hidden the body,” the FIR quotes Sameena as saying, adding that the police subsequently raided the house.

“He had locked himself up in his room. When they broke inside, there were stains of blood stains on Shahnawaz’s hands and clothes,” the police said in the complaint. “He then confessed that he had repeatedly hit his wife with a dumbbell during an argument and then hid her body in the washroom’s bathtub.”

Shahnawaz also said he had “hidden” the murder weapon under his bed, which police subsequently found and sent for a forensics examination.


Southern Pakistani province plans to move thousands of flood-hit people to ‘tent city’

Updated 26 September 2022

Southern Pakistani province plans to move thousands of flood-hit people to ‘tent city’

  • The tent city in Karachi’s Malir district includes 1,300 tarpaulin camps to house flood-affected people currently staying at Karachi schools
  • Floods have inundated around 15,000 schools Sindh, while education activities remain suspended at another 5,000 facilities housing affectees

KARACHI: Authorities in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on Monday said they were moving thousands of people displaced by catastrophic floods to a “tent city” on the outskirts of the port city of Karachi.

Torrential rains and floods have killed more than 1,600 people and affected 33 million across Pakistan since the beginning of monsoon season in mid-June. The deluges have forced 1.45 million people out of homes in the southern Sindh province, washing away most of their crops.

The provincial government has accommodated these displaced people in 5,000 government-run schools across the province, with 30 schools housing the affectees in Karachi.

Local authorities have decided to move these thousands of affectees from government-run schools in Karachi’s East district to hundreds of tarpaulin camps in the Malir district on the outskirts of the megapolis.

“About 7,000 people living in our relief camps would be shifted and the schools will be vacated,” said Raja Tariq Chandio, deputy commissioner of the East district, where most of the schools sheltering displaced people are situated.

Irfan Salam, deputy commissioner of the Malir district, said authorities had erected 1,300 shelters along the Malir link road, while K-Electric, the city’s sole power distributor, was also laying a power transmission line to supply electricity to these camps.

“In the tent city, flood victims will have safe drinking water and cooked meals. It has 20 washrooms and a hospital with men and women doctors and paramedics,” Salam told Arab News.

“It will take at least 10 days for K-Electric to set up the power transmission line, but we will start providing electricity through generators as we plan to move flood victims within the next two days.”

He said a charity had committed to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for the displaced people, for which a kitchen was being set up.

The Sindh education foundation would also set up a school to impart education to children of these flood-affected people, Salam added.

The deadly floods have inundated around 15,000 schools across the southern Pakistani province, while education activities remain suspended at another 5,000 institutes housing the affected masses.

Around 2.5 million students enrolled at these 20,000 schools may drop out this year as the province lacks resources to make educational facilities functional soon after floodwater recedes from marooned areas, according to Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah.

After the relocation of affected masses to the Malir district, officials say classes will resume at 30 government-run facilities housing them in Karachi’s East district.

Javed Shah, a teacher at the Government Boys Primary School in the district, told Arab News the local administration had communicated to them that the schools would be vacated this week, but it would take another few days to make arrangements for resumption of classes.

“We are happy that classes are going to resume soon,” Shah told Arab News. “We will bring the schools to order to resume classes.”


Dubai's DP World announces $2.5 million in flood assistance to Pakistan

Updated 26 September 2022

Dubai's DP World announces $2.5 million in flood assistance to Pakistan

  • The logistics firm's chief announced last week he planned to set up industrial parks in Pakistan
  • Sheikh Sultan bin Sulayem said Pakistan had a huge investment potential and human resource

ISLAMABAD: DP World, one of the world’s largest logistics and port terminal operators headquartered in Dubai, has announced donating $2.5 million to Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy said on Sunday, after massive floods caused widespread death and destruction in the South Asian country. 

Cataclysmic floods have killed at least 1,638 people, displaced more than 33 million and inundated a third of Pakistan since the onset of monsoon season in mid-June. 

The deluges have damaged millions of homes, swept away livestock and standing crops, causing an estimated loss of $3 billion to the South Asian country, already grappling with an economic crisis. 

The announcement of $2.5 million donation came after DP World Chairman Sheikh Sultan bin Sulayem's meetings with Pakistan President Arif Alvi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. 

"DP World supports the relief efforts in the aftermath of floods and torrential rains that hit large parts of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and announces to donate $2.5 million dollars to the Pakistan Army's Flood Relief account," the UAE embassy in Islamabad said on Twitter. 

The DP World chairman arrived in Pakistan on Friday to assess the scale of the disaster, which officials have blamed on human-driven climate change. 

Sheikh Sultan said he was interested in setting up industrial parks in Pakistan, which had a huge investment potential and availability of human resource.  

“The vision I have is to open industrial parks in Pakistan which will be equipped with modern infrastructure,” he said at a press conference in Karachi on Friday.  

"Human resource is no problem in Pakistan as the country has many highly educated engineers, who will work in these industrial parks."  

The Dubai-based logistics firm already operates a container terminal at the Karachi port. 

Pakistan and the UAE have close fraternal relations and bilateral cooperation in a range of fields. The UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and home to more than 1.6 million Pakistanis.