‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

The screen grab taken from CNN International's flagship global affairs interview program, Amanpour, featuring host Christine Amanpour, left, and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. (Photo courtesy: CNN)
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Updated 19 May 2022

‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

  • Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders operate from safe havens in Afghanistan
  • Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said it would not let militant groups use its soil

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said it was an “encouraging sign” that the Taliban government in Afghanistan had mediated a ceasefire deal between Islamabad and Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), saying he hoped Kabul would live up to its promise not to allow Afghan soil to be used to launch terror attacks against other nations.

The TTP, which are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December 2021, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the Pakistani government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Following the breakdown of talks between the two sides, the Pakistan Army resumed operations against the banned outfit early this year, after which the TTP announced the launch of its Al-Badar operation on March 30 to target law enforcement agencies. There has since been a surge in militant attacks, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders were operating out of safe havens in Afghanistan. The new Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said, however, that it would not let any group use its soil for militancy.

On Wednesday, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Kabul had mediated talks between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban movement in Pakistan and they had agreed on a ceasefire until May 30.

“Pakistan has been worried about the increase in terrorist activity and we are looking to the regime in Afghanistan to play their role in discouraging increase of terrorist activity,” Bhutto-Zardari said in an interview with CNN, broadcast on Wednesday night.

“And this is indeed an encouraging sign,” he said about the Afghan Taliban mediating talks with the TTP. “We continue to not only monitor this situation, but work on our side to ensure that we can try to tackle the threat of terrorism and hope that the regime in Afghanistan lives up to their international commitment to not allow their soil to be used for terrorism.”

When asked what it would take for Pakistan to recognize the new government in Kabul, the foreign minister said Islamabad would take that decision “in line with the international community.”

“At the same time, we continue to advocate for engagement, and particularly in light of the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan …So we're emphasizing increased humanitarian efforts and also underscoring the importance of ensuring that there isn't a complete collapse of the Afghan economy,” Bhutto-Zardari said.

“Simultaneously,  we, in the international community, are emphasizing the importance to the new regime in Afghanistan, that they live up to international commitments, be it vis-à-vis  terrorism, or, more specifically, their commitments to women's education and the education of girls in Afghanistan and we feel if they live up to international commitments, it would be easier for us and others to fight the case for increased support for humanitarian efforts and stabilization of the Afghan economy.”

Flag sales drop as Pakistan celebrates independence amid soaring inflation 

Updated 11 sec ago

Flag sales drop as Pakistan celebrates independence amid soaring inflation 

  • Flag sellers say increasing prices, rupee depreciation have hurt people’s buying power 
  • National flags, other items being sold despite high prices but at low volumes, say traders 

KARACHI: Each year in August, Pakistan’s national flag sees a boom in sales as the nation celebrates its independence from British colonial India on August 14. However, this time around, traders say flag sales have declined in the face of soaring inflation and torrential rains. 
As Pakistan celebrates its Diamond Jubilee this year, the government’s recent hike in prices of energy products, such as petrol and diesel, has also caused inflation to surge. Pakistan’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased to 24.9 percent in July this year, compared to 8.4 percent last year. 
A few days before Independence Day each year, one comes across many stalls in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, selling the country’s national flags and green-and-white themed buntings, bangles and T-shirts. 
Other items that also sell a lot are badges, caps, lockets, stickers, bracelets, headbands and various other decorative items. 
While the enthusiasm to celebrate Pakistan’s Diamond Jubilee remains the same, sellers say rising inflation has decreased people’s purchasing power while the recent torrential rains across Pakistan have also put a damper on the festivities. 
 “Cost of inputs are increasing, including electricity, petrol and labor charges so the impact is on everything,” Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala, CEO of VIP Flags, a manufacturer of national flags, told Arab News. 
He added that the business of selling flags was also not immune to inflation. 
“Prices of many items have increased by over 20-25 percent when we compare them to last year,” he lamented. “For instance, last year, the flag that was available for Rs 100 is being sold now for Rs 125-150.” 
Independence Day festivities also offer earning opportunities for hundreds of low-wage earners, irrespective of their age and gender, as they set up stalls in markets and on Karachi’s roads to cope with the rising inflationary pressure. 
“For the last 12 years, I have been coming here to sell flags, buntings, badges and other things that are used for Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations,” Noor Jehan, an 85-year-old vendor at Hassan Ali Effendi Road in Karachi, told Arab News. 
The octogenarian, who migrated from India at the time of migration in 1947, said rising inflation had compelled her to earn so that she could support her family. 
“In recent years, the prices of essential goods have increased manifold. A 10-kilogram bag of flour was available for Rs 300 in the past,” she said. “Now,flour is being sold for Rs100 per kilogram,” Jehan said. 
She said in the past, the entire household could live off the earnings of a single person in a family. However, nowadays, all members of a household earn yet their combined income isn’t enough to meet rising expenses. 
Another vendor, Muhammad Imran, told Arab News that low trading activities and the recent spell of rains in Karachi disrupted his business this year. 
“We have been setting up a stall from August 1, every year for the last nine years but this year, it was set up on the second week of August due to rains and slow trading activities,” Imran said. 
“Business is moving on now, though sales are not as high as compared to the previous years because [people’s] purchasing power is falling due to high prices,” Imran said. 
He said people are visiting stalls but selecting only a few items necessary for celebrations. 
Shaheer Khan, another vendor, said the rising prices of flags have reduced his turnover as the declining value of the rupee against the US dollar is making things costlier. 
“The price of a flag that was sold last year for Rs 200 has now increased [in selling price] toover Rs 400 because the cost of everything has increased in the market due to the dollar’s appreciation and other factors,” he added. 
However, flag manufacturers and sellers acknowledged that though in limited numbers, people are still buying items from their stalls according to their purchasing power to partake in the celebrations. 
“Buying [flags and other items] to celebrate ‘Freedom Day’ is a welcoming gesture, especially from the younger generation, who express their love for the country,” Perchamwala said. 
A buyer at a stall expressed his resolve to keep the spirit of Independence Day alive. 
 “I have bought a flag and a bugle for the August 14 celebrations,” Muhammad Assadullah, a teenager, told Arab News. “We celebrate Independence Day by cutting a cake and expressing our happiness. We will continue to celebrate,” he added. 

PM proposes ‘national dialogue’ to reform Pakistan’s state of affairs 

Updated 38 min 51 sec ago

PM proposes ‘national dialogue’ to reform Pakistan’s state of affairs 

  • PM Shehbaz Sharif warns against ‘internal division’, calls for unity 
  • Starting point for national dialogue can be ‘charter of economy’— Sharif 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday urged all stakeholders in the country to move toward a “national dialogue” to resolve Pakistan’s complex issues, on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day. 

Pakistan is celebrating 75 years of freedom from British rule in the subcontinent. On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into the two states of India and Pakistan. 

The political temperature in Pakistan is on the rise, with former prime minister Imran Khan levelling allegations against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the coalition government of being part of a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power earlier this year. 

“We need to have a national dialogue so that the mistakes of the past can be clearly identified,” Sharif said during a flag hoisting ceremony in Islamabad. “We need to start a sincere struggle to reform [Pakistan’s] state of affairs,” Sharif said. 

He said that starting point for national dialogue can be the “charter of economy.” 

“If we [Pakistan] can become a nuclear power, why can’t we become an economic power,” he asked. 

In his written message earlier, the prime minister said Pakistan’s creation was an outcome of its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s single-minded devotion, unflinching resolve and unwavering struggle. 

“Nothing is more dangerous for a nation than internal division; disruption and chaos, for such negative forces undermine the solidarity and integrity of the country and rob societies of their national purpose,” he stated. 

“We can push back the divisive and nihilistic forces with the power of the people and protect our freedom and identity. I have my full faith in their capabilities to chart a way forward,” Sharif stated. 

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

  • Saudi leadership wishes “steady progress and prosperity” for Pakistanis 
  • Islamabad, Riyadh enjoy deep-rooted, cordial ties with one another 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day, the Saudi State News Agency (SPA) said. 
On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. Every year, Pakistanis celebrate their independence from British rule with fanfare and festivities throughout the day. 
Islamabad and Riyadh have always cherished close diplomatic relations and are collaborating in various sectors. 
In their messages, the Saudi leadership wished President Alvi health and happiness and hoped Pakistan’s masses enjoy steady progress and prosperity. 
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulation to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” the SPA said. 
In his message, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.” 
Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis and has been the top source of workers’ remittances to the South Asian nation. 

Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

Updated 14 August 2022

Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

  • Militants will be dealt with full use of force if required, says Pakistan Army 
  • Thousands protested in Swat on Friday over reports of TTP militants’ presence in area 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military said on Saturday that reports of a large presence of Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley are “exaggerated and misleading.” 

Thousands protested in two main towns of Pakistan’s Swat valley in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday. Protestors took to the streets to denounce violence after reports that said Pakistani militants had increased their presence in the area. 

The TTP have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007, including a 2014 assault on a school in which 134 students were killed. The group is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them. 

Pakistan military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that a misperception about the alleged presence of a large number of TTP’s armed members has been created on social media over the past couple of days.  

“After confirmation on ground, these reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading,” the ISPR said. “Presence of a small number of armed men on a few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from the population,” it added.  

The military said that these individuals “sneaked in” from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas, adding that security forces are keeping a close watch on their limited presence and movement in mountains.  

“Required measures are in place by all LEAs (law enforcement agencies) for the safety and security of the people of the adjoining areas,” it said.  

“Presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required.” 

Swat Valley used to be a TTP bastion in 2009 before a military operation by Pakistan’s army drove them out, causing thousands of families in the region to be displaced.  

Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

Updated 13 August 2022

Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

  • Provincial disaster management authority reports six new deaths over last 24 hours
  • 582 people have died in rain-related incidents across Pakistan since mid-June

QUETTA: The death toll from rain-related incidents since the onset of monsoon season has killed at least 188 in Balochistan, authorities said on Saturday, as rains continue to lash the southwestern Pakistani province, triggering flash floods.

Monsoon rains have wreaked havoc in Pakistan since mid-June, killing at least 582 people. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by size and its most impoverished one, has reported the highest number of casualties.  

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) recorded six new deaths in rain-relates incidents in the past 24 hours.

“Six more bodies were recovered in the last 24 hours in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah and Lasbela districts who were swept away in flash floods due to heavy rains on Friday,” Meer Zia Langove, advisor to the chief minister on disaster management, told reporters in the provincial capital, Quetta.

PDMA Balochistan director general Naseer Khan Nasir said four out of Friday’s six deaths were recorded in Killa Abdullah district, where the victims were trying to cross a flooded road.

Many roads are impassable, and traffic has been suspended also on the Quetta-Karachi highway due to the overflowing of the Lunda River in the Lasbela district.

“Our teams are fully engaged with the National Highway Authority (NHA) to clear the roads. It will be opened for traffic in the next 24 hours,” Langove said.

“Twenty-six out of 34 districts in Balochistan are badly affected by monsoon rains and floods which destroyed 40,000 homes and crops cultivated on 500,000 acres of agricultural land.”

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the province’s worst hit areas, ordered immediate aid for their residents, and set up a relief fund for flood victims.

According to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD), the coming week may bring even more torrential rains to the region.

“Flash floods are expected in Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Barkhan, Kohlu, Mosa Khel, Sherani, Sibbi, Bolan, Kalat Khuzdar Awaran, Turbat Panjgur and other cities of Balochistan,” the PMD said in a notification on Saturday.

Downpours are also forecast for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh province.