Pakistani militant leader killed in Afghanistan — officials

In this file image, Omar Khalid Khorasani (C), a top Pakistan Taliban commander, gives an interview in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal region on June 2, 2011. (REUTERS)
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Updated 08 August 2022

Pakistani militant leader killed in Afghanistan — officials

  • Death of Abdul Wali, known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, a heavy blow to the Pakistani Taliban
  • Khurasani was part of TTP’s negotiators who were holding talks with Pakistani officials since May

ISLAMABAD: A late night roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan struck a vehicle carrying members of the Pakistani Taliban group, killing a senior leader and three other militants, several Pakistani officials and militant figures said Monday.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Sunday night killing of Abdul Wali, also widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, in Afghanistan’s Paktika province. His death is a heavy blow to the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group or the TTP.

The TTP blamed Pakistani intelligence agents for the killing, without offering evidence or elaborating.

The three other slain militants included Khurasani’s driver and two of his close aides. No one else was in the car at the time of the attack, according to Pakistani officials and the TTP members who spoke to The Associated Press.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the attack has not yet been publicly announced.

A statement from the TTP was expected later Monday.

The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan a year ago as the US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout.

The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 14 years, fighting 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.

Khurasani, a senior TTP leader, split in 2014 to form his own militant group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which later joined the Pakistani Taliban. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 2016. Rewards for Justice, the US State Department’s counter-terrorism rewards program, offered up to $3 million for information on Khurasani.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is accused of launching multiple attacks against Pakistani forces and religious minorities. The group also claimed responsibility for killing two Pakistani employees of the US Consulate in the northwestern city of Peshawar in March 2016.

That same year, it claimed responsibility for a suicide attack at a park in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore that killed more than 70 people.

The TTP — an umbrella group of several militant factions — has also been behind numerous attacks on Pakistani troops and civilians over the last 15 years.

Khurasani was part of the TTP’s negotiators who were holding talks with Pakistani officials since May. Three other militants killed in the bombing were identified by security officials and TTP members as Hassan Ali, Mufti Hassan and Hafiz Daulat. It was not immediately known where were they buried.

It was not immediately clear if and how Khurasani’s killing would affect about three monthslong cease-fire between TTP and Pakistan’s government. The truce was originally announced in May and was later extended for an indefinite period after talks between the Pakistani government and the TTP hosted by the Afghan Taliban in Kabul.

The cease-fire has mostly been holding, raising prospects for progress in the talks between the two sides.

TTP has long fought for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in Pakistan, release of their members from government custody, and a reduction of military presence in Pakistan’s former northwestern tribal regions.

Islamabad has demanded that the new Taliban rulers next door prevent militant groups from using Afghan territory for attacks inside Pakistan. Before the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Islamabad and Kabul often traded blame and accused each other of sheltering militants.

Pakistan now says it has finished the construction of more than 93 percent of a fence along the border with Afghanistan to prevent cross-border militant attacks.

Balochistan police arrest 8 on suspicion of involvement in Mastung suicide blast

Updated 32 sec ago

Balochistan police arrest 8 on suspicion of involvement in Mastung suicide blast

  • 60 people were killed, scores injured when a suicide blast targeted a gathering in Mastung on Friday
  • CTD Balochistan spokesperson says various methods are being used to identify the suicide bomber

QUETTA: The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province has arrested eight suspects for allegedly being involved in and facilitating last week’s suicide blast in Mastung, a source in the department with direct knowledge of the development said on Wednesday.
Sixty people were killed and scores were injured on Friday when a suicide blast targeted a gathering held to celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) birthday in Balochistan’s Mastung city. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the incident while banned outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has distanced itself from the incident.
A spokesperson for the CTD Balochistan said the department has intensified its investigation into the Mastung suicide bombing. He added that the CTD and other law enforcement agencies were carrying out operations in Mastung and other districts of the province to arrest those involved in the bombing.
“Eight persons have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the incident [Mastung bomb blast] and facilitating it,” a CTD source told Arab News. “Further action is being taken on the information extracted from those detained.”
Meanwhile, the CTD spokesperson said authorities have not received any data relating to the suicide bomber yet, adding that various methods are being used to identify him. “We have still not received the DNA and forensic reports,” the spokesperson said. “There is no negligence in the investigation of the incident, however, results will take time.”
Situated near the provincial capital of Quetta, Mastung is mostly mentioned in the news due to incidents of sectarian violence, insurgency, and militant attacks. The security situation in the area has been volatile for years and it is widely considered as one of the more sensitive districts in Balochistan from a security perspective.
Abdul Basit, a research fellow at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the Daesh-Khorasan outfit was most likely behind the Mastung bomb blast.
The regional affiliate of Daesh is a key rival of the Taliban. The militant group has increased its attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021. Targets have included Taliban patrols and members of Afghanistan’s Shia population.
Basit said the militant group has been struggling to survive as it faces tough opposition in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “If we look at all the data points and substantial evidence, it will give us a clear picture of which group has a stronghold in Mastung and attacks soft targets,” Basit told Aran News over the phone.
He said Daesh has conducted lethal attacks in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and Balochistan as both provinces share borders with Afghanistan, where it has a strong presence in some towns.
“Daesh has been struggling to show its relevance in Pakistan through more attacks and the militant group might attack soft targets in the next general elections.” Basit added.
Pakistan’s Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti vowed on Tuesday to take decisive action against militants in the country, adding that the state would maintain its monopoly on violence and would not succumb to pressure on gunpoint. He gave “illegal immigrants” in the country till November 1 to leave, threatening that after the deadline passes, the administration would deport them.
The move is likely to impact millions of Afghans living in Pakistan, with a sizable number not even registered as refugees in the country.
Balochistan’s Caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai told reporters on Wednesday that out of the 24 suicide bombings that have taken place in Pakistan since January, 14 were conducted by Afghan nationals.
“During the recent attacks on security forces’ camps in Zhob and Muslim Bagh, the majority of the attackers were Afghan citizens,” Achakzai said. He added that Balochistan was hosting 584,000 Afghans out of which 313,000 are registered as refugees and 274,000 are registered with Afghan citizen cards.
“In future, the Balochistan government will expel Afghan citizens living without visa here,” he said.

Ex-PM Khan’s bail plea for cipher case to be heard in open court — lawyer

Updated 13 min 47 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan’s bail plea for cipher case to be heard in open court — lawyer

  • ‘Sensitive information’ related to the case would be heard during in-camera proceedings, says Khan’s lawyer
  • Khan is accused of leaking the contents of a diplomatic cable for his political advantage in the ‘cipher case’

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ruled that former prime minister Imran Khan’s bail plea would be heard in an open court, his lawyer confirmed on Wednesday, adding that the court said “sensitive information” related to the case would be heard during an in-camera session.

Khan is accused of making public the contents of a confidential diplomatic cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States last year. The case is popularly referred to as the “cipher case” in which Khan is accused of leaking the contents of the cable for his political advantage, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Khan alleges the cable proves the United States had pressed Pakistan’s military to orchestrate the fall of his government because he had visited Russia shortly before it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Both Washington and the Pakistani military have rejected his accusations.

After the IHC said last week that Khan’s bail plea hearing would be heard in an open court, the FIA requested the court on Sunday to conduct in-camera proceedings of the petition. The FIA argued that if the case would be heard by an open court, it could pose the “risk of deteriorating relations with other countries,” according to local media reports. After hearing arguments from both parties to the case, the high court reserved its verdict on the FIA’s request.

“Islamabad High Court has given the verdict to hold Mr. Imran Khan’s bail plea hearing in an open court,” Panjutha wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “It has also said that any information which is pointed out by the lawyers as sensitive would be heard during an in-camera session.”

Panjutha criticized the verdict, saying that it would be a cause for “shame” for the country.

Khan has been in jail since Aug. 5 after a trial court in Islamabad found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in a case involving the unlawful sale of state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. However, he served his sentence at a high-security prison in Attock instead of Rawalpindi jail. On Aug. 29, the IHC dismissed Khan’s conviction in the sale of unlawful state gifts case but he continued to remain in prison for the cipher case.

Last Tuesday, the former prime minister was shifted from the Attock prison to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on the IHC’s orders.

Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote in April 2022, has accused Pakistan’s powerful military and his political rivals of colluding to keep him in jail so that he is unable to contest the upcoming elections. The former prime minister has repeatedly cited the PTI’s recent successes in by-elections held in various parts of the country as evidence of his growing popularity among the masses.

Pakistan is racked with political instability as the South Asian country faces an economic meltdown that has seen its reserves dwindle to dangerous levels and its currency weaken significantly against the US dollar. Political analysts have urged the caretaker government to hold free, fair and transparent elections to pull Pakistan out of its current crises.

Pakistan eye easier ride on World Cup rollercoaster

Updated 04 October 2023

Pakistan eye easier ride on World Cup rollercoaster

  • The green shirts will tackle outsiders Netherlands in their opening match of the World Cup on Friday
  • Babar Azam says the first tournament match is always important and the team wanted a winning start

HYDERABAD: Pakistan tackle outsiders Netherlands in their opening match of the World Cup on Friday desperate to avoid a repeat of the disastrous start of four years ago which undermined their campaign.

In 2019, Pakistan lost to the West Indies first up in Nottingham.

Shot out for a paltry 105 in 21.4 overs, Pakistan went down by seven wickets. They eventually missed out on a semifinal spot on net run-rate.

Four years on and Pakistan are already riding a familiar tournament rollercoaster.

They crashed out of last month’s Asia Cup after a big defeat against arch-rivals India before being ousted by Sri Lanka in the Super Four stage.

They also lost both their recent World Cup warm-ups against New Zealand and Australia.

Despite the sketchy form, captain Babar Azam insists his team are ready for the World Cup in a country which only two of the squad have ever visited.

Pakistan last played in India in 2016 at the Twenty20 World Cup.

“We had good practice in the last week since our arrival and two useful workouts in the warm-up games,” said Azam.

Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan and Sri Lanka's Dasun Shanaka, South Africa's Temba Bavuma, New Zealand's Kane Williamson and India's Rohit Sharma, presenters former India captain Ravi Shastri and former England captain Eoin Morgan, England's Jos Buttler and Pakistan's Babar Azam, Australia's Pat Cummins, Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi and Netherlands' Scott Edwards speak during the captain's day ahead of the 2023 Cricket World Cup in Ahmedabad, India, on October 4, 2023. (REUTERS)

The captain is the top-ranked batsman in ODI cricket and reinforced his credentials with knocks of 80 and 90 in the two warm-ups, returning to form after a dismal Asia Cup.

“The first match of a tournament is always very important so we are definitely looking forward to a winning start,” he said.

Babar insisted 1992 champions Pakistan will not underestimate the Dutch, a team they have defeated six times in six meetings.

The Netherlands, ranked 14 in the world, had to come through the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe earlier this year and made it to the World Cup alongside Sri Lanka.

“I want to congratulate the Netherlands for playing in this World Cup. They played some good cricket in the qualifiers and that is why they are here,” added Babar.

“There is no room for complacency and we will be on the ball from the first match.”

Pakistan will hope their spin trio of Shadab Khan, Usama Mir and Mohammad Nawaz, backed by part-timers Iftikhar Ahmed and Agha Salman, expose opponents’ weaknesses against slow bowling at the tournament.

Although they are without the injured Naseem Shah, spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf will pose a formidable new ball threat.

The Netherlands have only ever won two matches at the World Cup since their maiden appearance in 1996.

Spinners Colin Ackermann and Roelof van der Merwe, and pacer Paul van Meekeren are back after missing the qualifiers.

Wesley Barresi, the only surviving member of the 2011 World Cup on the sub-continent, lends experience to the batting which also boasts prime run-getters Max O’Dowd, Vikramjit Singh, Teja Nidamanuru and skipper Scott Edwards.

But their hopes will rest largely on all-rounders Bas de Leede and Logan van Beek, key performers at the qualifiers.

De Leede scored 285 runs and picked up 15 wickets in Zimbabwe while Van Beek smashed 30 runs and took two wickets in the knife-edge Super Over win against the West Indies.

“The opportunity to play in a World Cup is something that a lot of these guys have dreamt of,” said Tonga-born Edwards.

Despite their status as rank outsiders, the Dutch do not lack confidence.

“We hold high hopes going into this World Cup that we can put in a couple of really big performances and those can result in wins,” coach Ryan Cook told AFP.

“We’ll be putting everything that we can in to getting five or six wins to take us into the semifinals.”

From scenic valleys to cityscapes: How Gilgit App is reshaping Pakistan’s online marketplace

Updated 04 October 2023

From scenic valleys to cityscapes: How Gilgit App is reshaping Pakistan’s online marketplace

  • The app was originally designed to serve the local residents of Gilgit-Baltistan but was later launched in other cities
  • Unlike mainstream applications, Gilgit App is not ‘seller-centric’ and provides equally comfortable buying experience

GILGIT: A group of young programmers developed an online consumer app three years ago to serve the local community members in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region, more famous for its stunning landscapes than technological prowess.

Yet, the app garnered surprising attention and business from major urban centers across Pakistan after a successful test run in Karachi last year in January, challenging the norm of tech start-ups typically emerging from big cities. Gilgit App, having expanded its reach in recent months, now finds more of its business originating outside its native region than within it.

Originally a part of uConnect Technologies, a local firm offering software solutions since 2016, the app emerged from a pre-marketing strategy on Facebook where it assisted locals in buying and selling vehicles.

Its debut not only shook the local market but also made ripples in cities far removed from GB, a beautiful but resource-limited area not commonly associated with Pakistan’s burgeoning tech sector.

“We started a service on Facebook under the name of Gilgit App where we used to technologically assist people with the buying and selling of bikes and other vehicles,” Ejaz Karim, one of the founders and CEO of Gilgit App, told Arab News in a recent conversation.

Team of Gilgit App poses for a photograph in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region on September 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Gilgit App)

He informed the digital service was trending among the top app soon after its launch, adding that it was downloaded between 10,000 and 20,000 times within a brief span of 24 hours.

With an easy-to-use interface, the users of the online tool can buy and sell products, including cars, motorbikes, cellphones, laptops, home appliances, furniture, fashion products, property and pets, to meet their basic consumer needs.

“This app was initially designed and launched for the people of Gilgit,” Karim said. “But then our test run in Karachi got us a positive response. That’s when we released it in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and across Pakistan.”

“It now has more users in other cities compared to Gilgit,” he added.

Asked how his app was different from other mainstream platforms like OLX, he said that most online marketplace programs were “sellers-centric,” adding that his application also provided a comfortable experience to buyers since there were safety features in the app that protected them from fraudsters.

The Gilgit App CEO described frequent power breakdowns in his native region as one of the biggest problems faced by his company.

“This is especially true for the winter season when there is little to no electricity,” he said.

Additionally, he flagged the paucity of technical prowess around him as yet another issue while also mentioning the challenge of Internet connectivity.

“Nowadays, the Internet [issue] has almost resolved after the offices started to get fiber optics,” he said. “But many of our users [in GB] complain about the connectivity at their end. When the app runs slowly, the pace of downloading reduces as well.”

Discussing the expansion plans, Karim said the app was performing quite well, though his company wanted to strengthen itself further in the local market before making a move to the Middle East.

Shazia, who only goes by a single name, told Arab News she was the frontend developer.

“At Gilgit App, as a female, we get a favorable work environment to learn and hone our skills,” she said. “Our team leads deal with us respectfully and provide timely assistance to enhance our programming abilities.”

With the online consumer tool beginning to gain traction in local market, many of its users have started recommending it to others.

“I have been using Gilgit App for a year now, and my experience has been excellent,” Adnan Ali, whose job requires him to buy and sell sophisticated gadgets, told Arab News. “I’ve sold more than 10 products in the last year using this platform. Recently, I even sold a drone worth Rs120k.”

Ali called the app “user-friendly,” saying whenever he encountered an issue, the support team responded promptly and effectively.

“I highly recommend this app to anyone who’s looking to sell their products,” he continued. “I find it very reliable for finding the required items as well.”

Karamat Ali, another user, told Arab News he had been using the app for nearly three years.

“It has many good features to sell products,” he said. “But I would recommend the company to introduce inbox chatting and activate comments under photographs and images.”

Taliban criticize Pakistan’s plan to expel Afghan nationals, say refugees not causing security problems

Updated 04 October 2023

Taliban criticize Pakistan’s plan to expel Afghan nationals, say refugees not causing security problems

  • Pakistan blamed Afghan nationals for carrying out a majority of suicide attacks in its cities, asking illegal immigrants to go
  • Zabiullah Mujahid says Pakistan should continue to ‘tolerate’ Afghan refugees until they voluntarily decide to leave the country

ISLAMABAD: A senior official in Kabul on Wednesday criticized Pakistan’s decision to start expelling illegal immigrants, mostly Afghans, from next month amid mounting security concerns, saying that refugees from his country were not responsible for causing militant violence in Pakistani cities.

Pakistan has hosted a significant number of Afghan refugees for several decades, with their influx beginning in 1979 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and continuing through various conflicts that afflicted the war-ravaged state.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans also traveled to Pakistan since the US-led international forces left the neighboring country and the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021. While Pakistan hosts some 1.5 million registered refugees, more than a million others are estimated to be residing in the country unregistered.

Pakistan’s interim interior minister said on Tuesday Afghan nationals were involved in 14 out of 24 suicide bombings that took place in Pakistan since the beginning of this year, asking all foreigners residing illegally in the country to leave by the end of the month.

“The behavior of Pakistan against Afghan refugees is unacceptable,” Zabiullah Mujahid, Afghan government’s official spokesman, said in a social media post. “The Pakistani side should reconsider its plan.”

“Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems,” he continued. “As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them.”

Pakistan witnessed a surge in extremist attacks, particularly in its two western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, following the 2021 Taliban return to power in Kabul.

The recent spike in violence also owed to the breakdown of a fragile truce between the government and the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant network, whose leadership is said to be based in Afghanistan, last November.

Pakistan lost over 60 people in two suicide bombings that targeted a mosque and a religious congregation on Friday, prompting the government to ask all illegal immigrants to leave by November 1 or face forced expulsion.