'Bad idea': Pessimism over outcome as Pakistan formally okays talks with local Taliban 

Armed militants of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) pose for a photograph in Orakzai Agency, Pakistan, on November 26, 2008. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 07 July 2022

'Bad idea': Pessimism over outcome as Pakistan formally okays talks with local Taliban 

  • Parliamentary Committee on National Security on Tuesday formally approved negotiations with TTP militants
  • TTP extended cease-fire indefinitely after talks with Pakistani tribal elders mediated by Afghan Taliban in June 

ISLAMABAD: Experts this week called holding negotiations with local Taliban militants “the only solution” for the government to end militancy in the country but many were skeptical about whether the process would lead to a positive outcome after having failed in the past.

The Pakistani Taliban — known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — has 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 has since 2007 carried out a number of military operations against the TTP, but, despite reducing the militant group’s footprint, with most fighters fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan, it has not been able to fully stop attacks, which had begun to rise again along its western border in recent months.

On June 4, the TTP extended a cease-fire with the government for an indefinite period, after two-day talks with a delegation of Pakistani tribal elders facilitated by the Afghan Taliban, who head the government in Kabul since US-led forces withdrew last year.

This week, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired an in-camera meeting in Islamabad attended by over 100 lawmakers and officials to deliberate on talks with the Pakistani Taliban. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security subsequently gave its formal approval to hold the talks and also set up a parliamentary committee to oversee the process and ensure it was carried out within the ambit of the constitution.

Pakistan media has widely reported that at the heart of talks is an offer to accommodate the TTP with a safe passage back to Pakistan from Afghanistan in exchange for the group agreeing to a long-term cease-fire, dissolving its organization and possibly even joining mainstream politics.

“Pakistan wants to do it [talks] because the militancy problem is not over and they have realized that the only solution to this problem is that local Taliban should be integrated into the mainstream,” Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, told Arab News on Wednesday.

“Because for how long can military operations go on?”

Though the Afghan Taliban were brokering talks with the TTP as they had to uphold an international obligation not to let any militants use Afghan soil to attack another country, Mohmand said the Kabul government also did not want to push the TTP forcibly to come to the table or agree to a deal.

Afghan Taliban leaders have in the past openly praised the TTP for its contributions to the insurgency against the United States and the former Afghan government, and hinted that it can’t abandon the Pakistani affiliate.

“Afghan Taliban are the facilitators and they are playing this role because for some time TTP fighters fought with them in Afghanistan,” Mohmand added. “But if they [Afghan Taliban] will force them toward Pakistan, then TTP will blame them for their arrests [in Pakistan].”
 
Speaking about the main demands of the militant group, the diplomat said the TTP wanted a resolution of the issue of missing persons, compensation for losses caused to them during military operations, and for Pakistan to scrap a 2018 law that did away with the semi-independent status of the former tribal regions, FATA, that dates back to British colonial rule.

The TTP also wants a substantial reduction of Pakistani military forces from the former tribal areas, which border Afghanistan and where the group was mostly harboring before being driven out through military operations.

“Government will not accept the revival of the tribal system as it requires a constitutional amendment,” Mohmand said. “Also, there is little hope on missing persons, so in reality, they can only move forward on the compensation issue.”

Abdul Basit Khan, a research fellow at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the government’s negotiations with the TTP were a “sensible move” to reduce violence in Pakistan’s border regions.

“Pakistan wants to reduce violence and they have achieved it as due to the cease-fire, attacks have already gone down,” Khan told Arab News, adding that there was “no military solution” to the TTP problem.

“Parliamentary committee on national security has taken a clear position that only those demands which fall within the Pakistani constitutional framework will be accepted and any demand contradictory to it will not be accepted, such as reversal of FATA merger,” Khan said. “And TTP will also not be allowed to keep arms even if it is repatriated to Pakistan.”

Former diplomat, Ayaz Wazir, supported the talks but was skeptical there could be “permanent solution” unless the people of the former tribal regions were included in the decision-making process. 

“The real problem with the decision-makers is that they never take people of FATA into the confidence, neither at the time of military operations, nor during the merger, and that vacuum has always provided space to the TTP to resurface,” he said. 

Last year, the two sides had agreed to a cease-fire but talks broke down due to a disagreement over the release of TTP prisoners held by Pakistan, according to local media.

Another analyst, retired Brig. Mahmood Shah, a former chief of security in the tribal areas, said another round of negotiations with TTP after previous failures was a “bad idea” that was bound to fail. He also said the Pakistani constitution did not allow for talks with any group that challenged the nation’s sovereignty. 

“These talks cannot succeed and will never produce a sustainable solution as TTP will not back down from its core ideology and keep pursuing it with the use of violence as a tool,” Shah told Arab News.

Between 2006 and 2015, nearly 50 militant groups declared war on the Pakistani state, conducting over 16,000 terror attacks, according to government figures. More than 80,000 people have been killed in the violence, which cost over $150 billion in losses to the Pakistani economy and drove 3.5 million people from their homes in the tribal regions where military operations were carried out.

“Pakistan have thrown them [TTP] out of tribal areas after extensive military operations and a lot of sacrifices,” said. “What was the rationale of all those previous actions if they will now be allowed to return?” 


Pakistan forms cabinet committee on climate change as over 600 killed in monsoon rains this year

Updated 16 August 2022

Pakistan forms cabinet committee on climate change as over 600 killed in monsoon rains this year

  • Committee to give recommendations on short, medium, and long term projects to prevent effects of climate change
  • According to NDMA, 635 people killed across Pakistan in torrential rains, floods since June 14 this year 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the formation of a cabinet committee chaired by the minister for climate change to give recommendations on short, medium, and long term projects to mitigate the growing effects of climate change.

Pakistan is among the top eight countries most affected by climate change while it’s share in global warming gas emissions is only 1 percent of the world. 

The country has faced unprecedented monsoon downpours this year, with 635 killed in rains and floods since June 14, according to the National Disaster Management Authority’s (NDMA) latest figures. The dead include 136 women and 233 children. More than 196 deaths were reported from the impoverished southwest province of Balochistan, 141 from Punjab, 137 from Sindh, and 122 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to a latest alert by the Flood Forecasting Division of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, India released 1,71,797 Cusecs from Ujh Barrage on August 15, with likely water flow increases in River Ravi at Jassar ranging between 70,000 Cusecs to 1,00,000 Cusecs, which could result in medium to high flood levels.

“The cabinet unanimously approved the formation of a cabinet committee under the chairmanship of Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman, which will also include ministers from the relevant ministries,” a statement issued by the prime minister’s office said after a meeting of the cabinet.

The committee will give recommendations on short, medium, and long term projects to prevent the effects of climate change, the statement added.

“We are glad that the prime minister has announced the formation of an inter-ministerial committee on climate adaptation with the participation of agriculture, food security, water, and others to sit together and devise an action plan for adaptation for all these sectors,” climate change minister Sherry Rehman said during the briefing to cabinet.

The minister said Pakistan would be water scarce by 2025 and the country has faced 152 extreme events in the last two decades with constant shifts in rainfall patterns, intensity, and frequency. 

“We are also home to the hottest cities in the world for three years straight with temperatures rising up to 53.7C, which is an unlivable situation,” Rehman told the cabinet, adding that due to its impact on food security Pakistan had an up to 40 percent food insecure population. 

“We have lost 1.8 million acres of fertile land to sea intrusion due to rising sea levels and lose 27,000 acres of forest annually,” she added.

Speaking in the cabinet, prime minister Shehbaz Sharif said climate change, water security, and food security were three interrelated challenges and needed urgent measures to combat them and protect future generations. 

“The government is well aware of the expected problems arising from climate change,” the PM said, “and solving this problem is among the top priorities of the government.”


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

Updated 16 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

  • Police charged Afghan Muhammad Syed with two  murders, linked four killings to personal grudges
  • Son Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: Police believe the son of the prime suspect in the killings of four Muslim men may have played a role in the murders, which have shaken the Muslim community in New Mexico's largest city.

Cellphone data shows Shaheen Syed, 21, was in the same "general area" of Albuquerque as his father at the time of the Aug. 5 killing of 25-year-old trucking entrepreneur Naeem Hussain, according to a filing by federal prosecutors for a Monday detention hearing during which Syed was denied bail.

Syed's attorney John Anderson said the allegations were "exceedingly thin and speculative."

Police last week charged Shaheen Syed's father, Muhammad Syed, 51, with two of the murders and linked the four killings to personal grudges, possibly fueled by intra-Muslim sectarian hatred. Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.

"Law enforcement officers also have recently discovered evidence that appears to tie the defendant, Shaheen Syed, to these killings," the filing said.

Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Naeem Hussain leaving an Aug. 5 funeral service for two of the murdered Muslim men, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data. He then followed Hussain to the area of a parking lot where he was shot dead.

"Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant (Shaheen Syed) would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting," the filing said.

Prosecutors did not provide evidence on the other shootings.

Imtiaz Hussain said he believed at least two people were involved in the Aug. 1 murder of his brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.

A pistol and rifle were used to shoot Afzaal Hussain, a city planning director, 15 times in around 15 to 20 seconds, according to police records and Imtiaz.

“For one suspect it is difficult to use two weapons in that short an interval,“ said Imtiaz Hussain.

The victims Naeem Hussain and Afzaal Hussain were not related.

Muhammad Syed, an Afghan refugee, has been charged with killing Afzaal Hussain, who was from Pakistan, and cafe manager Aftab Hussein, 41, who had ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A fourth man, supermarket owner Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi.


Young British-Pakistani racer lives in the fast lane to prove Pakistan ‘the best’

Updated 16 August 2022

Young British-Pakistani racer lives in the fast lane to prove Pakistan ‘the best’

  • 22-year-old Enaam Ahmed is two races away from entering prestigious Formula 2 league in the US
  • Ahmed became British Formula Champion at 12 and European and World Champion at age of 14

KARACHI: A British-Pakistani racer, only two contests away from getting into the prestigious Formula 1 league in the United States, says his inspiration is to change the way Pakistan is perceived by the world and put his country of origin on the map of world sports.

Enaam Ahmed, 22, was born to Pakistani parents in London where he started racing on Go-Kart tracks while he was eight. His passion grew with time, and he ultimately became the British Formula Champion at 12 and a European and World Champion at the age of 14. He is currently in the American Formula 3 league, before which he was car racing in the British Formula 3 and became a champion at 17.

“My inspiration really is to change the way the world perceives our country [Pakistan] and the Muslim world, in terms of sports,” Ahmed told Arab News in a Zoom interview from London earlier this month.

“Representing the country [Pakistan] is what gives me the power, what gives me the motivation to succeed ... What keeps me going is this burning ambition to prove that we can be the best.”

Enaam Ahmed sits in his car for a race in Indianapolis, United States, on May 9, 2022. (Enaam Ahmed)

Ahmed said he had had his family’s support from the beginning of his interest in racing.

“I couldn’t really be here without them. I didn’t expect to be racing in the high-level series like I’m doing as a professional, I just started off with my little Go Kart, then worked my way into little races.”

Ahmed’s father, Shami Ahmed, said his interest in racing had come about by accident.

“It all started by accident, I was invited by a friend to take Enaam to a Go Karting track,” said the proud parent, saying sustaining his son’s passion was “financially challenging until we started getting support from sponsors and backers.”

“I believe Enaam has much more potential and the best is still to come. It’s great that he has taken it on himself to be an unofficial ambassador of Pakistan.”

Enaam Ahmed's car is pictured during a race in United States on July 8, 2022. (Enaam Ahmed)

The journey has been exciting and challenging. While Ahmed has traveled and raced in some top teams and against some of the best drivers in the world, he also had to face racism initially as a rare person of color alongside the black British driver, Lewis Hamilton, who had inspired him to enter the profession in the first place. Ahmed has also found it difficult to find good sponsors, which he said was the reason he missed the chance of getting into Formula 2 in Europe.

“There were moments when I didn’t want to give up but it was looking like I would have to give up because there was no option,” he said. “There were some situations when I didn’t have a sponsor one week before a race, but I always found a way.”

Despite the odds, there has been no looking back for Ahmed, who has never lost a race and always finishes in the top three.

“I have always done things to be the best or nothing,” he said. “I don’t do things just to take part or come second or third. I am here to win.”

Speaking about his special connection with Pakistan, he said he was “put on this earth to race for Pakistan and become a champion.”

“I have two biggest motivations: One is to make my country proud and raise the flag of Pakistan the highest it has ever been; and to relieve my parents, my family of work,” he added.

Enaam Ahmed signs a cap for a fan on May 1, 2022. (Enaam Ahmed)

Currently, Ahmed is on the Road to Indy series, a racecar driver development program that provided a scholarship-funded path to reach the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500.

Speaking to Arab News, a top official at the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) applauded Ahmed for his passion to represent his country.

“It’s encouraging to see Enaam Ahmed representing Pakistan in the global racing scene but there is no federation for motorsports in Pakistan,” PSB director general, Col (r) Muhammad Asif Zaman, said.

“Formula car racing requires heavy investment and facilities, and we don’t have that. However, it would be worth considering adding racing to adventure games such as mountaineering and watersports.”


Post-Hajj flight operations conclude in Pakistani cities of Lahore, Peshawar, Multan

Updated 16 August 2022

Post-Hajj flight operations conclude in Pakistani cities of Lahore, Peshawar, Multan

  • Pakistan’s national airline operated over 154 return flights till August 13
  • Over 83,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed the Hajj pilgrimage this year

ISLAMABAD: A spokesperson for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said on Tuesday post-Hajj flight operations had been successfully concluded at airports in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar, Multan and Lahore.

Up to one million pilgrims from around the world performed the annual Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj, after Saudi Arabia lifted coronavirus restrictions for the first time in two years. Pilgrims were required to be vaccinated and under 65 years of age. 

The kingdom allotted Pakistan a quota of 83,132 pilgrims this year, out of which 34,453 people availed the government’s Hajj scheme while over 48,000 performed Hajj through private operators.

Pakistan started its post-Hajj flight operations last month, with the first flight of the national carrier, PIA, arriving in Lahore from Jeddah with 213 passengers on July 14.

“After Lahore, post Hajj operations were also completed at Peshawar and Multan airports,” the PCAA spokesman said. “The post Hajj operation at Peshawar Airport started on July 14 and ended on August 13.”

From Peshawar airport, a total of 3,276 pilgrims had gone for Hajj through 40 flights.

“Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International Airport welcomed 3830 pilgrims who returned home in 62 flights,” the spokesperson said.

The post-Hajj operation at Multan International Airport ran from July 15 to August 13.

“A total of 39 flights were operated from Multan Airport through which 4,586 pilgrims traveled,” the spokesman said. “2,345 pilgrims returned home through 31 scheduled flights.”


Gunmen kill two policemen guarding Pakistan polio team

Updated 16 August 2022

Gunmen kill two policemen guarding Pakistan polio team

  • Pakistan has reported 15 polio cases since April this year
  • Polio only remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan

PESHAWAR: Two officers guarding a polio vaccination team in northwest Pakistan were shot dead by unidentified assailants, police said Tuesday, the latest deaths in an ongoing campaign to eradicate the disease.
Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only countries where polio remains endemic, but vaccination teams have been targeted for years by Islamic militants in both nations.
“Two gunmen hiding near a small water channel opened fire on the policemen from a very close range,” senior officer Waqar Ahmad Khan told AFP.
“The gunmen spared the two-member polio vaccination team ... and fled on a motorbike.”
The incident happened in Kot Azam, Tank district, close to tribal districts where the military has clashed with militants since 2003.
Scores of polio workers and security officials guarding them have been killed since 2012 by militants who claim vaccination programs are part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.
Another conspiracy theory holds that the vaccines contain pig fat and are therefore banned by Muslims.
Islamist opposition to inoculation campaigns grew after the CIA organized a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
In April, Pakistan reported the first case of polio in 15 months.
Since then, 14 more polio cases have been reported — all from the same ultra-conservative district where many villagers are against vaccines.
The United States reported its first case of polio in almost a decade in July, while Britain said last week that around one million children in London will be offered a booster vaccine after the virus was detected in sewage samples.