‘Futile exercise’: Pessimism as Afghan Taliban mediate truce between Pakistan, local militants

Pakistani army soldiers gather near a vehicle at 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 02 June 2022

‘Futile exercise’: Pessimism as Afghan Taliban mediate truce between Pakistan, local militants

  • Islamabad trying to negotiate ceasefire extension with Pakistani Taliban that expired this week
  • Talks between the two sides have been mediated by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the past

PESHAWAR: As Pakistan's government on Wednesday sent a 50-member delegation of tribal elders to Kabul to negotiate an extension of a truce with the Pakistani Taliban that expired this week, analysts expressed pessimism about the negotiations, saying there was little chance Islamabad would yield to the militants' demands. 

The Pakistani Taliban — known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP — are a separate group but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who took over Kabul last August as US and NATO troops withdrew. The TTP has been behind numerous attacks in Pakistan over the past 14 years and has long fought for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members who are in government custody and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions.

The latest ceasefire expired on Tuesday this week. Before that the Afghan Taliban brokered a ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan last November, which lasted a month. However, none of the ceasefires have paved the way for a more permanent peace agreement.

“All those peace deals collapsed,” Ayaz Wazir, a former ambassador who hails from the tribal areas, told Arab News, referring to past attempts at reaching a permanent agreement. “Though tribal elders have been involved this time, we can only pray for the success of the negotiations,.”

The TTP is asking Pakistan to scrap a 2018 law that did away with the semi-independent status of the former tribal regions that dates back to British colonial rule. The law aimed to grant equal rights to millions of residents in the restive FATA areas once they were incorporated into Pakistan's authority as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

TTP also wants Pakistani troops to pull out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, release all the TTP fighters in government custody and revoke all the legal cases against them.

“The exercise of securing a peace agreement is extremely difficult because it is nearly impossible for Pakistan to accept these demands,” Wazir said. 

Malik Riaz Bangash, a security and terrorism expert in KP, concurred with Wazir, calling the negotiations a “futile exercise” because the demands of the TTP would be "near impossible" for the government of Pakistan to accept.

“This is a futile exercise and will not last long,” he said. “The demands of the TTP, such as handing them over the control of erstwhile FATA and release of all prisoners, will not be acceptable to Pakistan.”

But security analyst Brig. (Retd) Said Nazir Mohmand said he was hopeful. 

“I’m hopeful that talks this time around as compared to previous failed negotiations will result in arresting peace because dynamics, ground realities and environment around the peace talks are totally different,” he said. 

“This time the active role of tribal elders, Pakistani officials and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will for sure help the two sides to reach a peace deal.”

Previous talks with the TTP had also failed because of an "unfriendly government" in Afghanistan, he said, referring to the previous government of President Ashraf Ghani with whom Islamabad had sour ties. Now, Mohmand added, the Taliban government in Kabul was extending “all out support.” 

“This time, I think all the three parties such as Pakistan, the TTP and the Afghan Taliban want durable peace,” he added. “But if the talks fail then I fear relations between Kabul and Islamabad can experience a downward trend.”


Interior minister asks ex-PM Khan to return to parliament, hold dialogue for early elections

Updated 6 min 33 sec ago

Interior minister asks ex-PM Khan to return to parliament, hold dialogue for early elections

  • Khan has asked his supporters to gather in Rawalpindi today, in a final showdown with government
  • Intelligence agencies have warned of a threat to Khan’s rally in Rawalpindi, interior minister says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Friday asked former prime minister Imran Khan to return to parliament and hold a dialogue with the government and its allies for early elections, a day before the ex-premier is scheduled to hold a massive rally in a final showdown with the government.

Ex-PM Khan, who was ousted from power in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, resigned from his parliamentary membership a day later. His resignation followed mass resignations of members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from parliament.

The former premier has since been agitating against the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif and has held several rallies in a bid to pressure the government into announcing snap polls in the South Asian country, which are scheduled to be held in the latter half of 2023.

In a final showdown with government, Khan has urged his supporters to gather in the garrison city of Rawalpindi today, Saturday, for a massive protest against his ouster, but Sanaullah advised Khan to “act like a politician” in order to achieve his goal, instead of being “obstinate.”

“Don’t be obstinate. If you want a date for the election, then act like a politician, sit with other politicians [and] have a dialogue,” the minister said on Twitter.

He also told Khan that he should not pin his hopes on the country’s army, which even when not in power is the invisible guiding hand of politics in the country, as the army as an institution would not go beyond its constitutional role.

“Come back and become a part of the parliament. Let the political and democratic process go forward.”

Khan says his ouster was part of a United States-backed foreign conspiracy for pursuing an independent foreign policy for Pakistan. Washington and Khan’s opponents have repeatedly denied the allegation.

Late last month, he launched a march toward the Pakistani capital of Islamabad from the eastern city of Lahore, which was ended this week upon reaching Rawat town near the capital.

The former premier has also been increasingly critical of Pakistan’s powerful army and its outgoing chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for not blocking his ouster and maintains he has been protesting for a “free” Pakistani nation.

Sanaullah also asked Khan not to pin his hopes on the country’s establishment, a term that is synonymous to the all-powerful army in Pakistan’s context, and said the army as an institution would neither step back from or go beyond its constitutional role.

Pakistan’s army has ruled the South Asian country for nearly half of its 75-year history, and even when not in power, it is seen as the invisible guiding hand in the country’s politics.

Sanaullah also asked the former prime minister to postpone his anti-government rally in Rawalpindi, saying intelligence agencies had warned that a militant attack could target the gathering.

Prior to that, the provincial government in Punjab, which Rawalpindi is a part of, said it had made arrangements to provide “foolproof” security to Khan and his protest rally.


Pakistan PM invites Turkiye to join China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for regional progress

Updated 26 November 2022

Pakistan PM invites Turkiye to join China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for regional progress

  • Shehbaz Sharif says he will discuss the matter with Chinese leadership, if Turkiye agrees to the idea
  • Pakistan prime minister vows to make all-out efforts to achieve the target of $5 billion bilateral trade

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday invited Turkiye to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to bring about regional prosperity, alleviate poverty and empower people through better education and health facilities, Pakistani state media reported.

Sharif arrived in Turkiye on Friday on a two-day visit that he said would unpack the “untapped potential” of bilateral ties between the two countries.

The prime minister vowed to boost Pakistan-Turkiye trade and defense cooperation to $5 billion, inviting Turkiye to join CPEC, a major segment of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Under the $65 billion project, Beijing is building a network of roads, railways, pipelines and ports in Pakistan that will connect China to the Arabian Sea and help Islamabad expand and modernize its economy.

“I would suggest that let this be a cooperation between China, Pakistan and Turkiye. This would be a wonderful joint cooperation. This will bring prosperity and progress to this entire region,” Pakistan’s APP news agency quoted Sharif as saying at a joint press stakeout with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“This will help alleviate poverty and unemployment. This will certainly empower our poor people. This will promote education and health. This is how we can meet the challenges of today.”

Sharif said he would be “happy” to discuss the matter with the Chinese leadership, if Turkiye moved ahead on the idea of joining the CPEC.

In their meeting, the two leaders underscored the effective implementation of a trade and goods agreement the two countries signed in August this year, according to the report.

Sharif said the $1 billion trade volume between Pakistan and Turkiye did not reflect the close brotherly relations and promised to make all-out efforts to achieve the target of $5 billion trade between the two countries.

Erdogan said both countries were hopeful of further increasing their relations in trade, defense and other sectors.

Expressing grief over the deaths and destruction caused by the recent floods in Pakistan, the Turkish president said, “Our solidarity has been shown to each other during challenging times… Pakistan’s joy is our joy and their grief is our grief.”

The deadly floods, blamed on climate change, killed more than 1,700 Pakistanis, affected 33 million others and caused the country more than $30 billion losses earlier this year.


In northwest Pakistan, one police official bans music and dance at wedding ceremonies

Updated 25 November 2022

In northwest Pakistan, one police official bans music and dance at wedding ceremonies

  • Some people of Shahpur community say they should be free to mourn and celebrate their grief and joy in traditional ways
  • CCPO Peshawar maintains the decision was to curb crimes, discourage use of narcotics at parties and prevent aerial firing

PESHAWAR: A police official in Peshawar decided to impose a ban on music and dance during wedding ceremonies in areas falling under his jurisdiction earlier this week, saying such festivities were against religion and directing all residents to abide by his decision.
Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which is thought to be a conservative region of the country.
According to media reports, the provincial assembly speaker also asked traffic police recently to ban music in vehicles providing transport services to students of public and private education institutions.
“Yes, we have taken the decision [to ban music and dance at wedding parties],” Abdul Ali Khan, station house officer (SHO) at the Shahpur police station, told Arab News on Thursday. “You should ask yourself if these [music and dance] are good things.”
A resident of the area, Ulas Muhammad Zai, confirmed that the SHO had convened a meeting of local elders earlier this week and verbally instructed them to ban music and dance during wedding ceremonies.
“There are countless un-Islamic practices taking place in our society on a daily basis,” he said. “Police should adopt measures to curb those practices instead. They should let people mourn and celebrate their grief and joy according to their traditions.”
However, the SHO also found support among some community members.
Malik Roshan, another Shahpur resident, said he was present at the meeting and decided to support the ban.
“The police officer didn’t stop us from celebrating,” he continued. “He just directed people of the locality to celebrate their weddings within certain moral boundaries.”
Asked about the development, Peshawar's Capital City Police Officer Muhammad Ijaz Khan said no official notification had been issued which was binding on people, adding that the SHO had only taken the decision to ensure the security of his area.
The CCPO maintained the ban on dance parties during the wedding ceremonies was only to curb crimes, discourage the use of narcotics and prevent aerial firing.
“In the past, we have had precedents when these music and dance parties turned violent, ending up in armed clashes and putting people’s lives in danger,” he added. “The SHO imposed the ban from a security viewpoint, not an Islamic perspective.”
Commenting on the development, Qamar Naseem, a civil society activist, said the ban on entertainment programs was an arbitrary decision and a clear human rights violation.
He maintained if the police feared that criminals were forcing their ways into such gatherings, they should view it as an opportunity to apprehend such elements.
“Will we shut down the motorway if we observe a surge in accidents,” he said while giving an analogy. “Banning music is against law and the police official is clearly overstepping his authority here. The police are legally mandated to implement existing laws, not enact new ones.”


Pakistan PM invites Turkish investment in renewable energy to cut carbon emissions

Updated 25 November 2022

Pakistan PM invites Turkish investment in renewable energy to cut carbon emissions

  • Shehbaz Sharif inaugurates the third of the four MILGEM corvette ship for Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul shipyard
  • The prime minister says Pakistan and Turkey are deeply engaged in promoting defense capabilities for peace

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Friday Pakistan and Turkey had huge potential to collaborate in the field of alternative energy while addressing a ceremony in Istanbul to launch a warship for his country’s naval forces.

Sharif arrived in Turkey earlier in the day on a visit that he said would unpack the “untapped potential” of bilateral ties between the two countries.

Together with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he inaugurated one of the four MILGEM corvette ship for the Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul shipyard.

He applauded the defense cooperation between the two countries while urging to expand it further in other areas of strategic importance.

The prime minister specifically mentioned how a developing country like Pakistan had to pay high import bills for petroleum and energy products while emphasizing the significance of producing clean and renewable energy.

“We immediately want to shift to solar energy, towards wind power, towards hydel power generation,” Sharif told the participants of the ceremony. “Turkish investors have great potential to invest in these fields. I want to make use of this opportunity to propose to you that let’s join hands together and get rid of high carbon emissions, cut our import bills and let’s really promote investments in these fields.”

 

The prime minister praised the MILGEM project, which his country signed with a Turkish state-owned defense contractor in 2018, under which the Pakistan Navy would get four warships from Turkey.

“It is another great day in our historical relations and brotherhood to be here and witness the launching of second MILGEM corvette, Khyber, for Pakistan Navy,” he said.

Sharif noted the two countries had strong bilateral relations and had always helped each other.

“Pakistan and Turkey are deeply engaged in promoting our defense capabilities for peace and to ward off aggression,” he continued. “Let’s further enhance our production capacities. Let’s further cooperate in this field.”

Addressing the ceremony, President Erdogan also applauded the defense cooperation between the two countries while saying that four corvettes were produced under the MILGEM project: Two of them were developed in Turkey while two were built in Pakistan.

According to Pakistan’s APP news agency, he said that his government wanted Turkey to reach the top of the global defense industry, adding that his country would also launch homegrown drone and fighter jet in the coming year.


Pakistan’s central bank chief announces early repayment of $1 billion bond

Updated 25 November 2022

Pakistan’s central bank chief announces early repayment of $1 billion bond

  • There has been growing uncertainty about the ability of Pakistan to meet external financing obligations
  • The bank chief says funding has been lined up from multilateral and bilateral sources amid depleting reserves

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will repay a $1 billion international bond on Dec. 2, three days before its due date, the governor of Pakistan’s central bank told a briefing on Friday.
There has been growing uncertainty about the ability of Pakistan to meet external financing obligations with the country in the midst of an economic crisis and recovering from devastating floods that killed over 1,700 people.
The bond repayment, which matures on Dec. 5, totals $1.08 billion, Jameel Ahmad, Governor State Bank of Pakistan, told a briefing, according to two analysts who were present.
Ahmad added that funding has been lined up from multilateral and bilateral sources to ensure the repayment would not affect foreign exchange reserves. An immediate inflow of $500 million was expected next week on Tuesday from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, he said.
Pakistan’s reserves with the central bank stood at $7.8 billion as of Nov. 18, barely enough to cover a month’s imports.
Ahmad said reserve levels will depend on the continued realization of expected inflows and rollover of loans from friendly countries, but added he was confident the reserve figure will be “much higher” by the end of the financial year in June 2023.
He told the briefing he expects external financing requirements would be met on time because of inflows from international lenders. He pointed out that, despite payments of $1.8 billion in November, reserves remained stable.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said earlier this week that Pakistan’s timely finalization of a recovery plan from devastating floods is essential to support discussions and continued financial support from multilateral and bilateral partners.
Pakistan is currently in an IMF bailout program, which it entered in 2019, but a firm date for the ninth review to release much-needed funds is pending even as it battles a full-blown economic crisis, with decades-high inflation and low reserves.
The central bank raised its key policy rate by 100 basis points to 16% on Friday in an unexpected move to ensure high inflation does not get entrenched.