Sirajuddin Haqqani, feared and secretive Taliban figure, reveals face in rare public appearance 

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani speaks to new Afghan police recruits during a graduation ceremony at the police academy in Kabul on March 5, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 07 March 2022

Sirajuddin Haqqani, feared and secretive Taliban figure, reveals face in rare public appearance 

  • Haqqani was photographed at the graduation ceremony of police recruits in Kabul on Saturday 
  • His name first echoed after 2008 attack on Kabul’s Serena Hotel that killed six, including a US national 

PESHAWAR: The name of Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s acting interior minister and the Taliban’s second-in-command, started echoing around the world in 2008 as a young commander of the most-feared Haqqani Network that was executing a series of deadly attacks on US-allied forces in Afghanistan.
The powerful Taliban commander has once again been in the headlines after he revealed his face in a rare public appearance in Kabul this week.
Haqqani was attending the graduation ceremony of the first batch of police recruits at the National Defense Police Academy in Kabul since the Taliban took over the reins of Afghanistan.
“I never came before the media, but today I am appearing in front of the media for you so that I can gain your trust and so that you know your value and importance,” Haqqani, who also goes by the name of Khalifa, said in his address.

Afghanistan's acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani inspects recruits at the police graduation ceremony at the National Defense Police Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 5, 2022. (IEA)

During the address that lasted around 30 minutes, he reiterated the Taliban’s stand of not allowing the use of Afghanistan’s soil against any foreign state, and the interim government’s commitment to providing unhindered access to humanitarian organizations and their staff in Afghanistan.
While his younger brother, Anas Haqqani, frequently appeared on media since his release in November 2019 after spending over five years in American captivity in Afghanistan, Haqqani was never clearly seen in photos despite extensively traveling to areas under the Taliban’s control for most of the last 15 years. Even after the Taliban takeover in August, his face remained hidden from the world as cameras were not allowed at the events or meetings attended by him, while on other occasions, he was filmed from behind or his face was blurred in still images.

Afghanistan's acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and his younger brother Anas Haqqani are seen sitting together at the National Defense Police Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 5, 2022. (IEA)

Born in December 1979, Haqqani is the second of the seven sons of the first wife of the late Taliban leader and founder of the Haqqani Network, Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani. Jalaluddin’s eldest son, Nasiruddin Haqqani, commonly known to the family and the Taliban as ‘Doctor Nasir,’ was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2013.
Sirajuddin Haqqani lost three other brothers in the Afghan war. Badruddin Haqqani, who is still described by the Taliban as one of their most capable strategists and who was famous for preparing suicide bombers and vehicle-based explosive devices, was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan in 2012.
Muhammad Haqqani was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2010, while their youngest sibling, Omar Haqqani, was killed in a US military operation in Khost province in Afghanistan in July 2008.
Besides Sirajuddin Haqqani, Abdul Aziz Haqqani and Anas Haqqani are the only living sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani from his Pashtun wife. His other wife, of Arab origins, has been living with her children in her home country for a long time.
Like all his siblings, Haqqani also received his early education from his father. In 1984, he enrolled at a religious seminary, Anjuman Uloom Al-Qur’an, in northwestern Pakistan at the age of five.
“After completing his religious education, he remained close to his father in most of his journeys during the Mujahideen’s fight against the USSR, which influenced him a lot,” Sheikh Muhammad Saqib, a close friend of Jalaluddin Haqqani and a trusted aide of Sirajuddin Haqqani, told Arab News.
“Among all the siblings, Khalifa resembles his late father the most in many qualities.”

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani reviews new Afghan police recruits standing in formation during a graduation ceremony at the police academy in Kabul on March 5, 2022. (AFP)

Haqqani fought alongside the Taliban for the first time in 2003 and led his first attack against the US forces in Jawar, Khost in 2004. He was later appointed by the Taliban as the shadow governor for Khost province in 2006.
His name cropped up in the media for the first time after the January 2008 attack on Serena Hotel in Kabul, wherein six people were killed, including a US national.

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani (C) and Deputy Prime Minister of the Taliban Abdul Salam Hanafi (L) attend a graduation ceremony for new Afghan police recruits at the police academy in Kabul on March 5, 2022. (AFP)

Later he became one of the most wanted persons to the US and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) placed a reward of $10 million on his head.
Sirajuddin, like his father, added ‘Haqqani’ to his name for being a graduate of the famous Pakistani religious seminary, Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak near Peshawar.

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani reviews new Afghan police recruits standing in formation during a graduation ceremony at the police academy in Kabul on March 5, 2022. (AFP)

In 2009, the Haqqani Network kidnapped US soldier Beaudry Robert ‘Bowe’ Bergdahl. Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Taliban commanders imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in May 2014.
Journalist Mushtaq Yusufzai, who has interviewed Haqqani more than once, says Haqqani never accepted that his network was a separate group, but for him it was part of the Taliban.
“I interviewed him for the second time in 2009 and asked him why he was sought after by the Americans,” Yusufzai recalled. “’I must have hurt them badly’ was the reply by Sirajuddin Haqqani who was probably 28 at the time.”

Gas outages during Sehri, Iftar times pile on misery for Karachiites

Updated 23 March 2023

Gas outages during Sehri, Iftar times pile on misery for Karachiites

  • Gas supply company says annual decline in reserves creating demand-supply gap
  • Citizens burn tyres, block traffic at Karachi's Golimar area to protest gas outage

KARACHI: Enraged citizens took to the streets in anger on Thursday to protest against gas supply disruptions during Sehri, Iftar times in the Golimar area of Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

According to a report prepared by Pakistan's Petroleum Division last year, the South Asian country has already utilized 66.6% of its total gas reserves, leaving only 33.4% untouched. 

Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with demand during the winter season peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against a local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.

Reportedly, misery piled on for residents living in Karachi's North Nazimabad, New Karachi, Nagin Chowrangi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, and other areas of the city as they geared up to observe the first fast of Ramadan on Thursday but found little to no gas to light stoves. 

Angry protestors blocked a main road at Golimar that connects southern and central Karachi, burning tyres, shouting angry slogans and causing traffic congestion. 

Speaking to Arab News, Imran Rao, a resident of the city's Gulshan-e-Hadeed neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, said the low gas pressure was not enough for him to cook food. 

“There is a gas crisis in our area, and our relatives living in Gulistan-e-Jauhar said they were also getting very low [gas] pressure," he said. "The gas is not enough to light the stove,” Rao added. 

The government-owned Sui Southern Gas Company's (SSGC) Head of Corporate Communications, Salman Ahmed Siddiqui, admitted there was an “issue of gas supply” in the city. 

“Today was the first Sehri, there might have been a few issues in some areas,” Siddiqui told Arab News, adding that the SSGC was trying to manage the load. 

“We are trying our best to manage the load in the context of the overall shortage in the system due to annual depletion of gas reserves,” he added.

The power supply company, in a statement issued on Thursday, said gas pressure would remain low from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as it was facing a shortfall of 250 million mmBtu. 

“Hopefully from tomorrow onwards all supplies will be streamlined as per the given schedule,” the SSGC said in its statement, adding that supply during Sehar and Iftar hours would be ensured. 

"Every year, there is an evident shortfall in the supply of gas system of Sui Southern Gas due to an annual decrease of eight to ten percent in the country's gas reservoirs," the statement said. 

On Wednesday, the Pakistan’s power ministry announced uninterrupted power supply during Sehri, Iftar and Taraweeh prayer times throughout the country in Ramadan. 

However, a resident also said his neighborhood was subjected to power outage during Sehri time. 

“Our area plunged into darkness during Sehri despite announcements that there would be no load-shedding during these hours,” Muhammad Younus, a resident of Karachi's Steel Town area, told Arab News. 

The city's main power supply company, K-Electric, did not respond to Arab News' request for comment. 

Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week

Updated 23 March 2023

Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week

  • The last date for submitting Hajj applications in Pakistan is March 31
  • Over 179,000 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform Hajj this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani banks have received over 26,000 Hajj applications from March 16 to 22, the country's religious affairs ministry said on Thursday, as the deadline to apply for the spiritual pilgrimage nears.

The Hajj is a spiritual journey that every Muslim adult must undertake once in his lifetime, to the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, if he is sound of mind and financially and physically able to do so. It is one of the important five pillars of the Islamic faith.

The deadline to apply for the Hajj pilgrimage will expire on March 31. This year, 179,210 pilgrims from Pakistan are expected to travel to the kingdom after Riyadh restored Pakistan's pre-pandemic Hajj quota and also scrapped the upper age limit of 65 years to perform the pilgrimage. 

"Banks have received over 26,000 [Hajj] applications till March 22," Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony said in a statement. It added that the government would issue further directives to banks to facilitate pilgrims in the process after receiving their feedback. 

The ministry added that overseas Pakistanis would also be able to submit their medical fitness certificates that they received abroad. It said Hajj pilgrims who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus, can submit their applications after receiving a single dose of any of the vaccines approved by the kingdom. 

"However, they will have to get themselves fully vaccinated before departure and submit their certificates," the ministry said. "Apart from NADRA, any foreign vaccine certificate will also be accepted."

The ministry said that to accept Hajj applications, specified branches of designated banks would remain open on Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26.

It said that pilgrims would have to buy the "Qurbani" [sacrifice] coupons in Saudi Arabia themselves, adding that the Pakistani Hajj Mission in the kingdom would facilitate them in doing so.

"The Qurbani coupon costs between SR700-1,000," the religion ministry said, adding that Hajj pilgrims would be informed when they would be required to submit their passports or get their biometric for the journey done. 

"Hajj applications will only be processed through selected banks," it added. 

'Art has no boundaries,' says Pakistan's Ali Xeeshan on designing wedding dress for Indian actress

Updated 23 March 2023

'Art has no boundaries,' says Pakistan's Ali Xeeshan on designing wedding dress for Indian actress

  • Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker bought the dress for a whopping Rs1,800,000 ($6,359) from Ali Xeeshan
  • Bhasker, who married an Indian politician last month, wore the dress at her Valima reception this week

KARACHI: Top Pakistani designer Ali Xeeshan, who recently designed a wedding outfit for famous Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker, spoke about their collaboration on Thursday, saying art had no boundaries and the people of India and Pakistan had "the same DNA."

Bhasker, a prominent Indian actress who has starred in Bollywood flicks such as Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu, Veere Di Wedding, Manto, and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, tied the knot with Indian politician Fahad Ahmad last month. 

Earlier this week, the two held a Valima reception in the Indian city of Bareilly. In a Twitter post, Bhasker revealed Xeeshan had designed her dress, saying that the Pakistani designer had it delivered to her all the way from Lahore to Bareilly, via Dubai, Bombay and New Delhi.

Bhasker said in her Twitter post that she had "long marveled" at Xeeshan's talent, adding that his "warmth and generosity" made her admire him.

Arch-rivals India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the past seven decades, two times over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that both sides claim in full but administer only parts of. 

Cultural exchanges between the two nations have almost entirely ceased since August 2019, when India revoked the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir, prompting Islamabad to cut diplomatic and trade ties.

“We [Pakistan and India] have the same DNA, we eat the same food, we breath the same air, we are cut from the same cloth,” Xeeshan told Arab News on Thursday. 

“I’m an artist, I am [a] visual person. Art has no boundaries," he said, adding that tensions between the two countries exist due to political reasons. "Our family systems are the same. We are both very passionate nations.” 

Xeeshan says he has a lot of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu clients based in Canada and other parts of the world. 

“Because of internet and social media, the world has become so small. I don’t think these boundaries will last forever," he said. "The passion is there; the mutual admiration is there. This [the boundary] is mostly in our heads.” 

Speaking about the process of getting the dress made, Xeeshan said Bhasker reached out to him a month earlier to discuss the dress. 

“I liked Swara [Bhaskar] anyway. I liked how gutsy and bold she was. Unafraid, unapologetic,” he said, adding that the Bollywood actress informed him she was getting married to a "Muslim boy."

"We just connected. It was easy."

The ivory gold outfit worn by Bhasker on her big day was mutually finalized by Xeeshan, his team and Bhasker. He went to Dubai to deliver the dress and since the actress couldn't travel, Xeeshan's team managed to deliver it to her in India. 

According to Xeeshan, Bhasker bought the dress for a whopping Rs1,800,000 ($6,359).

"It [the outfit] was understated and yet it was flamboyant. I loved how the dupatta was wrapped around her. It was a very Muslim nikkah outfit,” Xeeshan said. “We have named this design Rajkumari so it has that grandeur, that old school charm to it. It wasn’t trying to be a statement outfit.” 

Xeeshan asked Swara to give him a few lines to write on the dupatta (long scarf) for the groom. 

The designer said the dress was hand-made, adding that his team had to bring its most senior artisans on board "whose generations are working with us.” 

The dress, Xeeshan said, was 70% ready when Bhasker placed her order. Usually, he said such "star articles" take about six months to make hence the base is usually prepared while the order is customized according to the client's needs. 

“It was designed and curated considering her personality,” he said. “She just wanted it to be warm. This is something she could give to her next generation, it could be her heirloom piece," Xeeshan added. 

One person dies in stampede for free flour as Ramadan begins in Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2023

One person dies in stampede for free flour as Ramadan begins in Pakistan

  • Eight others were injured during free flour distribution in northwestern Pakistan's Charsadda city
  • Decades-high inflation in Pakistan has pushed prices of basic food items out of many people's reach

PESHAWAR: One person was killed and eight others injured during a stampede for free flour in inflation-wracked Pakistan on Thursday, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
The price of basic food items has rocketed in recent months, with inflation at a near 50 year-high as the country grapples with a balance of payments crisis that has seen it forced back into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
“Nine people were trampled and were taken to hospital where one person died,” said Muhammad Arif, police chief for Charsadda in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the incident happened.
Arif said hundreds of people gathered at the local market for the handouts, one of hundreds of distribution points set up by the government during Ramadan.
Millions of low income families across the country are registered under the scheme.
In a nearby district, a man died and four others were injured when a wall they were sitting on collapsed as crowds amassed for free flour.
Authorities told AFP it was not clear why the wall collapsed.
Pakistan’s finances have been wrecked by years of financial mismanagement and political instability — a situation exacerbated by a global energy crisis and devastating floods that left a third of the country under water last year.
The South Asian nation is deeply in debt, and needs to introduce tough tax and utility price increases to unlock another tranche of a $6.5 billion IMF bail-out and avoid defaulting.

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

Updated 23 March 2023

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

  • PM Sharif last week announced government's plans for fuel pricing scheme to help poor
  • Package envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel, reducing prices for the poor

KARACHI: Pakistan is drafting a fuel pricing scheme aimed at helping the poor, the petroleum minister said, a programme that some economists fear could hinder a crucial International Monetary Fund pay out needed to prevent economic collapse.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif first announced the government's plans for fuel pricing last week.

Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told Reuters his ministry had been given six weeks to draft the relief package, which envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel and using that money to reduce prices for the poor who have been hit hard by inflation, which in February was at its highest in 50 years.

"It is not a subsidy. It is a pricing scheme. It is a relief programme for the poor," Malik said. A ministry spokesman said the price difference would be in the range of 100 Pakistani rupees (around 30 U.S. cents) a litre for the rich and the poor.

With enough foreign reserves to only cover about four weeks of necessary imports, Pakistan is desperate for the IMF agreement to disperse a $1.1 billion tranche from a $6.5 billion bailout agreed in 2019.

The government has implemented several fiscal measures, including devaluing the rupee, lifting subsidies and raising energy prices as preconditions for the agreement, which the finance minister said this month was "very close".

The resident IMF representative, Esther Perez Ruiz, said this week that the government did not consult the fund about the fuel pricing scheme.

She said the fund would ask the government for more details about the proposal, including how it will be implemented and what protection would be put in place to prevent abuse.

Asked about the IMF's concerns, Malik said the scheme was not a subsidy. "We haven't heard any concerns from the IMF," he said. "It is same like we did in the gas sector, and that was okay with the IMF," he added.

Earlier this year, the government implemented different prices for natural gas based on the amount of fuel consumed.

Economists said the scheme could derail the progress Pakistan had made so far in negotiations with the IMF.

"It seems this was not discussed with the IMF and, therefore, could delay the staff level agreement," said former central bank deputy governor Murtaza Syed.

($1 = 282.7200 Pakistani rupees)