Pakistani security forces arrest suspected Daesh militants in Punjab

Pakistani police patrolling on the streets of Lahore on August 12, 2013. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 July 2022
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Pakistani security forces arrest suspected Daesh militants in Punjab

  • Pakistan has seen renewed militant attacks in recent months after several years of relative quiet
  • In May, Daesh claimed responsibility for a deadly mosque bombing in Peshawar

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) said on Saturday it had arrested nine suspected militants, including four belonging to the Daesh, after a series of raids in Punjab province.

The CTD said it had conducted 22 intelligence-based operations in different districts of Punjab, during which officers seized firearms, rounds of ammunition, and improvised explosive devices.

“During these IBOs, 09 suspects belonging to different defunct organizations were arrested,” the CTD said in a statement, listing the Daesh, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ) militant groups.

Pakistan has seen renewed militant attacks in recent months after several years of relative quiet.

The attacks have mostly been carried out by the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, and security officials have said Daesh had little presence in the country, but in May the group claimed responsibility for a deadly mosque bombing in northwestern Pakistan.

The suicide attack in Peshawar killed 63 people and injured nearly 200.

The explosion occurred at the Shiite mosque in the congested Qissa Khawani bazaar as worshipers were offering Friday prayers.


IMF chief says has been asking Pakistan to increase tax revenue from rich, protect the underprivileged

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IMF chief says has been asking Pakistan to increase tax revenue from rich, protect the underprivileged

  • The poor segments have been suffering due to high inflation which the government has attributed to IMF reforms
  • Kristalina Georgieva says economic reforms are not easy to implement but they are in the interest of Pakistani people

ISLAMABAD: International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday her organization had been consistently communicating the need for Pakistani authorities to generate more tax revenue from wealthier social segments while protecting the underprivileged classes in the country.

The top IMF official made the comment during a brief interaction with a Pakistani reporter on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

Her statement comes against the backdrop of spiraling inflation in Pakistan which has primarily affected the poor. The government has consistently attributed the increasing cost of living in the country to stringent economic reforms recommended by the international lender while approving a $3 billion bailout in June.

“Let me send a simple message to everybody in Pakistan,” she said while speaking to Geo News correspondent. “What we are asking in our program is please collect more taxes from the wealthy and please protect the poor people of Pakistan.”

“I do believe that this is in line with what people in Pakistan would like to see for the country,” she added.

The IMF chief acknowledged the conditions laid down by her organization to revitalize Pakistan’s economy and address the mistakes of the past were not easy to implement.

However, she maintained they were in the interest of the people of Pakistan.

Georgieva statement comes following her meeting with Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Tuesday in which she was briefed on measures taken by the country’s interim administration to stabilize the economy.

The IMF asked Pakistan to raise energy prices and following market-driven exchange rate which made the CPI hit a record 38 percent this year and the national currency plummet to all-time lows.

Kakar said he had a “constructive dialogue” with the IMF chief who, in turn, said there was an agreement to follow policies to ensure stability and foster sustainable and inclusive growth in Pakistan.


International report highlights polio eradication challenges in Pakistan, other countries

Updated 22 September 2023
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International report highlights polio eradication challenges in Pakistan, other countries

  • There have only been seven cases of wild polio reported this year, five in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan
  • Experts say outbreaks linked to vaccine-derived polio are more challenging and have paralyzed more children

LONDON: The global effort to end polio is likely to miss two key targets this year on the path toward defeating the virus, according to an independent strategic review.

The aim in 2023 was to interrupt the transmission of wild polio in the two countries where it is still endemic, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and do the same for a variant form of polio known as “vaccine-derived” that is causing outbreaks elsewhere.

The Independent Monitoring Board, a group of polio experts who oversee the work of the UN-backed Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), said neither target would be hit this year.

The GPEI agreed on both counts, citing insecurity in key locations as one of the remaining challenges and stressing in a statement responding to the review that ending the vaccine-derived outbreaks is likely to take the most time.

Wiping out polio, a viral disease that can cause paralysis, has been a key global health aim for decades. Cases have been reduced by more than 99 percent since 1988 thanks to mass vaccination campaigns, but making polio the second infectious disease ever to be completely eradicated, after smallpox in 1980 – has proved more difficult.

“But it can be done. And we need to make sure we finish the job,” said Aidan O’Leary, director of polio eradication at the World Health Organization, a GPEI partner alongside governments and funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

There have only been seven cases of wild polio reported this year, five in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan.

O’Leary said interrupting transmission of this form of polio was likely to happen by early 2024, just a few months after the target.

This meant the hope of a conclusive end to polio by 2026 remained alive, at least for wild polio, he said in a phone interview with Reuters on Thursday.

However, outbreaks linked to vaccine-derived polio are more challenging, he said. This form of polio can occur when children are immunized with a vaccine containing a weakened version of the live virus. They are protected, but the weakened virus excreted by these immunized children can spread and mutate among an unvaccinated population, ultimately becoming harmful.

Such viruses have recently paralyzed nearly 50 times more children than wild poliovirus, the monitoring board review said.

The GPEI aims to focus its vaccination and surveillance efforts on the areas where these kinds of polioviruses are concentrated: the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, north western Nigeria, south-central Somalia, and northern Yemen, O’Leary said.

“This is what is needed to shift the game,” he said. “Clearly the timelines are under review ... but we can do what has to be done.”


Pakistan army chief meets Saudi counterpart to discuss defense ties, security cooperation

Updated 22 September 2023
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Pakistan army chief meets Saudi counterpart to discuss defense ties, security cooperation

  • Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s militaries have a history of extensive defense cooperation
  • Two nations often participate in joint military exercises, Pakistan army trains Saudi cadets

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief, General Asim Munir, on Friday held a meeting with the leader of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces, General Fayyadh Bin Hamed Al Ruwaili, and discussed strengthening bilateral cooperation in defense and security affairs, the army’s media wing said.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia share strong defense ties and security cooperation. An annual tradition involves cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, visiting Pakistan to undergo specialized army training. The two nations regularly engage in joint military exercises.

On September 9, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia launched a joint naval exercise near the Kingdom’s Al Jubail city and in August the two countries launched an inaugural joint special forces exercise to benefit from each other’s counterterrorism expertise.

“During the meeting, both sides deliberated upon various areas of mutual interest and bilateral cooperation, including defense and security matters,” the army’s media wing said of the meeting between the two generals.

A day ago, General Al-Ruwaili visited Pakistan’s Naval Headquarters in Islamabad and met a senior Pakistan Navy official.

“The visiting dignitary appreciated and acknowledged Pakistan Navy’s efforts and commitments in support of collaborative maritime security in the region,” a statement from the Navy said on Thursday.

Riyadh and Islamabad also enjoy close cooperation in trade, economy, culture, information, and investment. Pakistani expats living in Saudi Arabia are the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation.


Pakistan open to welcoming Mohammad Amir to World Cup squad — chief selector

Updated 22 September 2023
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Pakistan open to welcoming Mohammad Amir to World Cup squad — chief selector

  • Fast bowler retired from international cricket in 2020 citing discrimination, ‘mental torture’
  • Chief selector says if Amir to be considered for World Cup is willing to play domestic cricket

ISLAMABAD: Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said on Friday Pakistan was ‘open’ to the possibility of welcoming former fast bowler Mohammad Amir back into the squad ahead of the World Cup if he consistently performed well in domestic competitions.
Amir announced his retirement from international cricket at the age of 28 in December 2020, claiming he could no longer play in an atmosphere where he did not feel welcome in the national team.
Amir, who was jailed in 2011 for his part in a spot-fixing scandal, served three months in prison and a five-year ban from all forms of cricket before returning to the Pakistan squad in January 2016.
The left-arm bowler excelled in limited-overs cricket after that, helping Pakistan to the Champions Trophy title in 2017, but was dropped from the squad to tour New Zealand in 2020.
Questioned about the chance of Amir returning to the squad for the upcoming cricket World Cup starting next month in India, the chief selector said “the doors are open for everyone, including Amir.”
“Aamir is a great cricketer and he had decided to retire,” the official said.
“If he wants to play for Pakistan, the doors are open for everyone. If he comes back and plays first-class cricket and performs well, he will definitely be considered … I have said this before, neither the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) nor the selection committee closes the door [of opportunity] for anyone.”


In an interview with a local news channel when he retired, Amir said he had been “mentally tortured by the team management, subjected to frequent taunts, and felt deliberately sidelined.” 
Asked if he was leaving the sport altogether he said: “No, I’m not going away from cricket. If you have seen the atmosphere here and the way I’ve been sidelined, I got a wake-up call when I was not selected in the 35-man squad,” Amir had told Samaa TV.
“I don’t think I can play cricket under this management. I think I should leave cricket this time. I am being tortured mentally. I don’t think I can tolerate any more torture now.
“I’ve experienced a lot of torture from 2010 to 2015. I was away from the game and sentenced for my mistake. I’m being tortured again and again...”
Amir, who has 259 wickets across all formats, had retired from test cricket in 2019 to focus on the white-ball game.
He was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers in the 2019 50-overs World Cup in England with 17 wickets as they missed out on a semifinal spot.
 


248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

Updated 22 September 2023
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248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

  • ‘Overwhelming increase’ in 2022 could be attributable to lifting of coronavirus travel restrictions
  • US consulate said this week it had expedited visa application process amid ‘unprecedented’ demand

ISLAMABAD: Gallup Pakistan said in a report published this week visa applications from Pakistan for the United States increased by 248 percent percent between 2021 and 2022, likely owed to the lifting of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The analysis draws data from the United States Department of State and covers a substantial timeframe, starting from 1998 and extending up to 2022. A primary focus of the analysis was to assess the overall volume of visa applications from Pakistanis for the United States, including a detailed examination of the numerical figures, highlighting both high and low points over the years.
The United States consulate in Karachi said this week it had expedited the US visa application process for Pakistanis and was working to reduce wait times amid “unprecedented” demand.
“Applications increased in the past decade compared to the previous one, with a notable 248 percent surge in 2022,” Gallup said in its report.
“The overwhelming increase in applications in 2022 could be attributable, among other things, to those who could not travel in the 2019-2021 period due to Covid19. The average applications decreased from 65,385 in 2015-2015 to 37,913 in 2019-2021. Once the pandemic restrictions were lifted, it would be plausible to assume that those who were intending to go to the US for business or education purposes over the past three years, applied for visas at their earliest.”
Looking at data 1998 onwards, the highest applications were received in the years 2000 (88,791), after which they saw a steep decline until the 2010s. The second highest point in application frequency was reached in 2016 (76,637), followed closely by 2022 (72,082). The average over the past 20 years, represented by the trendline, remained 47,566 applications.
“The steep decline in 2020 and 2021 may be attributed to the travel restrictions and lockdowns that were imposed due to Covid-19,” the Gallup report said. “Other than this period, Pakistan’s visa applications to the US were lowest in 2003 (24,092), followed by 2004 (24,934).”
Among different visa types, in immigrant visas, K-visa applications spiked between 2003 and 2010 while E-visa applications remained consistently low.
In non-Immigrant Visas, B-1/B-2 visas had the most applications, with a dip in 2021 followed by a rebound to 58,152 in 2022. F1 visa applications showed a rising trend, reaching 3,540 in 2022. H-visa applications fluctuated over the years, with the highest in 2001 (5,555) and the lowest in 2020 (704). A-category visa applications increased from 2008 to 2020, surpassing H-visa applications during this period.
The US consulate in Karachi said on Tuesday the demand for US visas was the highest it had ever been in the South Asian country and it was “working hard” to bring down visa appointment wait times.
“We have expedited thousands of non-immigrant visa appointments. More than ten thousand Pakistani visa applicants originally scheduled for 2024 at the US Consulate General in Karachi are receiving notice that their appointments have been rescheduled in 2023, some as early as next week,” the consulate said in a statement.
“To create added flexibility for Pakistani travelers, visa applicants can rebook appointments at either the Consulate General in Karachi or US Embassy in Islamabad.”
Starting September 25, the US consulate said, it would also start accepting new interview waiver applications for some applicants who had previously been issued US visas.
“These steps demonstrate how deeply the United States values the relationship between our two countries,” it added.