'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?” 


Muslim World League secretary-general arrives in Pakistan 

Updated 05 October 2022

Muslim World League secretary-general arrives in Pakistan 

  • Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa has been Muslim World League’s secretary-general since 2016
  • Al-Issa will attend the Seerat-un-Nabi Conference as chief guest, says Pakistan’s religion ministry

ISLAMABAD: Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary General Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday to attend the International Seerat-un-Nabi Conference, Pakistan’s religion ministry said. 

Al-Issa has been the MWL secretary-general since 2016 and has forged several alliances with Jewish, Christian and other religious committees across the world. Prime Minister’s special representative for interfaith harmony, Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, earlier said the MWL secretary-general would hold meetings with Pakistan’s prime minister, president, National Assembly speaker and other senior leaders in the country. 

“At the special invitation of Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Mufti Abdul Shakoor, MWL Secretary-General Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa has arrived in Pakistan,” Pakistan’s Ministry for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony wrote on Twitter. 

“He will attend the Seerat-un-Nabi Conference on Rabiul Awwal 12 as its chief guest,” it added. 

 

Al-Issa was accorded a warm welcome upon arrival at the Nur Khan base in Rawalpindi. Shakoor, Ashrafi and Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, received him at the airport with various officials of Pakistan’s religion ministry. 


Asian Development Bank announces $2.3-2.5 billion in flood relief for Pakistan 

Updated 05 October 2022

Asian Development Bank announces $2.3-2.5 billion in flood relief for Pakistan 

  • Almost 1,700 people have been killed in Pakistan in rain-related incidents since June 14 
  • Asian Development Bank delegation meets Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday announced it would provide $2.3-2.5 billion in flood relief to support Pakistan, as the South Asian country continues to grapple with devastating floods that it estimates could cost over $30 billion in damages. 

Unusually heavy rains and melting glaciers triggered flash floods across Pakistan since mid-June. Almost 1,700 people have been killed in rain-related incidents since June 14 while millions of houses have been damaged. Critical infrastructure, including bridges and roads, has been severely damaged by raging floods. 

The government has said over 33 million people have been affected by floods, as many Pakistanis displaced by the floods are now suffering from mosquito-borne and water-borne diseases. 

Last month, the ADB said it was working on a “significant relief and rehabilitation package” for people, livelihoods and infrastructure affected by the floods. An ADB delegation led by Country Director Yong Ye met Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar at the Finance Division earlier today, Wednesday. 

“He [Ye] informed the Finance Minister that ADB will provide flood relief support to Pakistan to the tune of $ 2.3 to 2.5 billion including $ 1.5 billion for the BRACE program which will be placed before the ADB Board for approval during this month,” the Finance Division said in a statement. 

The finance minister informed the ADB delegation about the devastation caused by the floods and their impact on Pakistan’s economy, the statement said. Dar thanked ADB for its support and assured the delegation of the government’s full cooperation for “swift execution of the ongoing and future programs.” 

Pakistan has identified several priority needs, including food security, agriculture and livestock, health, water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter, and nonfood items, according to the ADB. 


Pakistan army chief’s US visit reflects both countries’ desire to reset relations — experts 

Updated 05 October 2022

Pakistan army chief’s US visit reflects both countries’ desire to reset relations — experts 

  • General Qamar Javed Bajwa is in Washington on a week-long visit to discuss bilateral ties, regional security 
  • Priority should be deepening ties through deeper economic engagement— international affairs expert 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s recent trip to Washington after Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s US visit reflects the two countries’ renewed desire to reset strained relations, international affairs and defense experts said on Wednesday. 

Gen Bajwa is in Washington on a week-long visit where he met US defense secretary General Lloyd James Austin III (Retired), national security adviser Jacob Jeremiah Sullivan, and deputy secretary of state Wendy Ruth Sherman. 

According to a statement issued by the Pakistan military’s media wing, during the meetings, both sides had convergence on major international issues including Afghanistan, and the need for cooperation to avoid humanitarian crises and improve peace and stability in the region. 

Washington has worked closely with Pakistan’s army chiefs over the years alongside civilian governments in the South Asian country. 

Uzair Younus, who works with Pakistan Initiative at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said bilateral relations between the two countries have been improving over the past few months. 

“Gen Bajwa’s trip soon after the foreign minister’s trip to Washington is a good signal for bilateral relations,” Younus told Arab News, adding the visit had been on the cards for months. It had been delayed on a couple of occasions, he said. 

“We must not lose sight of the fact that the relationship remains bounds by a narrow, transactional approach, and deepening ties especially through deeper economic engagement, must be the priority moving forward,” Younus added. 

Ties between Washington and Islamabad were strained with the former suspecting the latter allowed Taliban militants to seek refuge in Pakistan. The relationship between the two countries further soured when former Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed Washington had backed a parliamentary move to oust him from office. 

The US has denied the allegations. 

“The visit is very significant and positive for Pakistan and US relationship because, during Donald Trump’s time and Joe Biden’s initial tenure, the relationship between both countries was almost frozen,” Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a former foreign secretary who also served as Pakistan’s envoy to the USA, told Arab News. 

“As we have ties with the US in every domain and after the visit of prime minister, foreign minister and now military leadership, the trip would generate a positive opinion about bilateral relations,” he said. 

Chaudhry added it did not matter how much time Gen Bajwa has in office before he hangs his boots. 

“The relationship is between institutions which go on with the new leadership in any institution,” Chaudhary added. 

Pentagon announced last month that the US State Department had approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million, maintaining that this will improve the South Asian nation’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats. 

Military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said Bajwa’s visit is significant as both countries were looking to fulfill their needs. She said Pakistan’s army chief could play a vital role to ensure this. 

“This is the restart of a very narrowly focused military conversation with the US military as Pakistan’s military is still critical to the USA to ensure how counterterrorism is managed in the region and also, they did not want to push aggressively Pakistan into the Chinese [camp],” Siddiqa told Arab News. 

Gen Bajwa is set to retire in November. However, Siddiqa said Bajwa could play a significant role in negotiations between the new government post-retirement as well. 

“As after his retirement, General Jahangir Karamat was sent to Washington as an ambassador by the Musharraf government,” she said. “Negotiating and understanding what the Pakistani military is doing could lead to a future role for him.” 

Siddiqa said the visit was a significant one from Pakistan’s perspective as well, adding the South Asian country continues to rely economically and financially on support from western countries. 

She said, therefore, the relationship would remain like a transaction. 

Senior defense analyst Lt Gen (retired) Amjad Shoaib described Bajwa’s visit as a symbolic one, citing the army chief’s retirement next month as the reason for his argument. 

“The visit does not have much importance and is more of symbolic [nature] as Gen Bajwa is retiring next month,” he told Arab News. Shoaib said any decisions that the army chief reaches with the US authorities during his visit would be hard to pursue after his retirement. 

“Gen Bajwa has a very good understanding with the USA in establishing good military-to-military relations during his six-year tenure as army chief,” he said. 

“And they [USA] wanted to honor him to recognize his role in the promotion and strengthening of defense ties, especially during his tenure the Afghan issue was settled and the USA pulled out of it where General Bajwa played an important role,” he added. 

Washington has always supported Pakistan in economic terms but never supported its national interest, especially when it comes to regional issues, Shoaib said. 

“The relations required reorientation through a superior diplomacy,” he added. 


Pakistan’s rupee gains by 0.76% on hopes of IMF relief, declining price of commodities worldwide 

Updated 05 October 2022

Pakistan’s rupee gains by 0.76% on hopes of IMF relief, declining price of commodities worldwide 

  •  Dollar closes at Rs223.94, up by Rs1.70— State Bank of Pakistan 
  • Finance Minister Dar has vowed to bring dollar to under Rs200 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s rupee continued to gain in value against the US dollar on Wednesday, appreciating by 0.76 percent with analysts crediting it mainly to hopes that the country will secure relaxations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and declining prices of commodities worldwide. 

Pakistan’s rupee has been on an upward trajectory against the greenback ever since a change in the finance ministry, with former finance minister Miftah Ismail resigning and ruling party senator Ishaq Dar taking his place. 

The greenback closed at Rs223.94 on Wednesday, October 5 with the Pakistani rupee gaining by 0.76 percent, as per figures by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 

“[The rupee gaining value] is due to relaxations that the market expects Pakistan will get from the Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank due to floods,” Samiullah Tariq, director research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, told Arab News. 

Tariq said prices of international commodities had also decreased in the global market, which had also eased pressure on the rupee. “In my opinion, the [greenback] will come down to the Rs210-215 level in the coming days,” he added. 

He said a “change in sentiment” had also been observed in the currency market since Dar has taken over the finance ministry. 

Earlier this week, Dar said the country’s currency will strengthen to under 200 rupees to the US dollar. He said the rupee would be strengthened through government “policies” as the current rate was inflated due to speculation. 

Dar, who was sworn in last week as finance minister for his fourth stint in the role, has strongly favored intervention in currency markets in the past. 

Khurram Schehzad, CEO of an investment banking and advisory outlet Alpha Beta Core, told Arab News the rupee had gained in value due to “better surveillance” of currency markets by the SBP and the finance ministry. 

However, he warned the rupee may decline in the coming days. 

“Our economy is weak and with the floods, it’s a challenging situation,” Schehzad said. “There are chances of imports rising due to which the rupee may decline again.” 

He said Pakistan’s reserves were low and with the rupee appreciating, Pakistan’s exports may not be sustainable in the long run. Schehzad said the value of the US dollar against other currencies was also on the rise, which could mean the rupee may further weaken in the coming days. 


Sarah Inam’s family says won’t return to Canada without justice in alleged killing by husband

Updated 05 October 2022

Sarah Inam’s family says won’t return to Canada without justice in alleged killing by husband

  • Sarah Inam, 37, was allegedly murdered by husband Shahnawaz Amir last month
  • Family is based in Canada and arrived in Islamabad last week for last rites, to pursue legal case

ISLAMABAD: The father of Sarah Inam, a Pakistani-Canadian who was allegedly beaten to death by her husband last month, said on Wednesday the family would stay in Pakistan until the case was solved, calling on the government and judiciary to dispense speedy justice.

Inam, a 37-year-old economist who worked in Abu Dhabi, was murdered with dumbbells, according to police, by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at a suburban Islamabad home on September 23. Inam got married to Amir of her own choice on July 18 in his hometown of Chakwal. The parents of the couple were not present at the event.

Amir is currently under arrest and being investigated by police.

Inam’s parents and two brothers arrived from Canada and the United States respectively last week to perform Inam’s last rites and pursue the legal case.

“We are still traumatized and shocked, but strongly believe that we will get justice,” Inam Rahim, the victim’s father, told media in Islamabad.

“It was all planned. He [Amir] was a predator from the start, and my daughter was so naive to believe him,” he said, adding that the family would stay in Pakistan to pursue the case till its end.

Rahim said Amir seemed “sensible and convincing” when they had interacted over the phone after the marriage and the family never suspected he was a “beast and killer.”

“We had no negative information about Shahnawaz before the incident,” he said, adding that his daughter informed the family about the marriage over the phone after it was contracted.

“We were planning a formal wedding reception for our daughter in the first week of November,” Rahim said. “It never occurred to us that our daughter, who was a genius and accomplished professional, could be killed like this.”

The father expressed confidence in the police and the investigation process and said he hoped “justice will be served in the minimum possible time.”

The police have so far verified the couple’s nikah, seized a Mercedes car bought by the deceased, and investigated at least five people who attended the couple’s marriage in Chakwal. The police have yet to recover the deceased’s Canadian passport to get exact details of her travel history and have also sought court permission to access the victim and suspect’s bank accounts to investigate accusations of extortion against Amir.

Inam’s murder is reminiscent of last year’s headline-grabbing murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, which drew an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation.

In March this year, a Pakistani court sentenced to death Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer, a childhood friend of Mukadam, for beheading her. Mukadam and Jaffer were widely believed to have been in a romantic relationship, which they had broken off a few months before her murder.

The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday took up appeals in the Mukadam case and regular hearing will start from October 26, which lawyers say would conclude within ten weeks.

Speaking on the occasion, Inam’s brother Farrukh Inam, an employee at a tech company in the US, said his sister had been killed in a “premeditated act,” calling for the culprit to be hanged at the earliest.

“Our lawyer says we have a strong case to plead against the culprit and we’ll take it to the logical conclusion,” he said. “We haven’t been able to sleep peacefully since her murder.”

Inam’s two uncles, aunts and several first cousins were also present at the press conference.

“She was a brilliant, intelligent and kind person,” one of her uncles, Col (retired) Ikram Rahim, said. “She has left a void in our family that can’t be filled.”