Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

Pakistani security personnel are pictured at a checkpoint in Ghawar Kaly Sakhakot in the northwestern town of Dargai, in the Malakand region neighbouring Swat on June 11, 2014. (AFP/FILE)
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Updated 14 August 2022

Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

  • Militants will be dealt with full use of force if required, says Pakistan Army 
  • Thousands protested in Swat on Friday over reports of TTP militants’ presence in area 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military said on Saturday that reports of a large presence of Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley are “exaggerated and misleading.” 

Thousands protested in two main towns of Pakistan’s Swat valley in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday. Protestors took to the streets to denounce violence after reports that said Pakistani militants had increased their presence in the area. 

The TTP have 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 military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that a misperception about the alleged presence of a large number of TTP’s armed members has been created on social media over the past couple of days.  

“After confirmation on ground, these reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading,” the ISPR said. “Presence of a small number of armed men on a few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from the population,” it added.  

The military said that these individuals “sneaked in” from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas, adding that security forces are keeping a close watch on their limited presence and movement in mountains.  

“Required measures are in place by all LEAs (law enforcement agencies) for the safety and security of the people of the adjoining areas,” it said.  

“Presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required.” 

Swat Valley used to be a TTP bastion in 2009 before a military operation by Pakistan’s army drove them out, causing thousands of families in the region to be displaced.  


Rizwan the man again as Pakistan beat Bangladesh in T20 opener

Updated 16 sec ago

Rizwan the man again as Pakistan beat Bangladesh in T20 opener

  • Rizwan maintained his rich vein of form with an unbeaten 78 as Pakistan posted 167-5
  • It was the opening match of a week-long tournament, which also includes hosts New Zealand

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Mohammad Rizwan underlined why he will be a key weapon for Pakistan at the Twenty20 World Cup, top-scoring in a 21-run win over Bangladesh in Christchurch on Friday.

Rizwan maintained his rich vein of form with an unbeaten 78 as Pakistan posted 167-5, before restricting their opponents to 146-8.

It was the opening match of a week-long tournament, which also includes hosts New Zealand. All three teams are using it to prepare for the T20 World Cup in Australia.

The world’s top-ranked T20 batsman, Rizwan batted through the innings in cold conditions at Hagley Oval, tallying seven fours and two sixes in a chanceless 50-ball knock.

It was the 30-year-old’s 21st half-century in the format, continuing his form from last month’s T20 series against England, when he compiled a series-leading 316 runs.

His average in the format of 54.34 stands alone among the top 150 run-scorers. The next best is India’s Virat Kohli (50.84).

Rizwan’s best support on a tricky, two-paced wicket came from Shan Masood (31 off 22 balls), following an opening stand of 52 with captain Babar Azam (22 off 25) while Taskin Ahmed (2-25) was Bangladesh’s best bowler.

Rizwan said being patient after being sent in laid the foundation for a winning score.

“Early on the ball was a little bit grippy but me and the skipper decided to keep things simple,” he said.

“We did very well but I thought we were 10 to 15 runs short on this kind of pitch.

“After that, the bowlers bowled very well to the plan.”

Bangladesh’s chase tailed off after Liton Das (35) and Afif Hossain (25) put on a slick 50 for the third wicket from 34 balls.

Some late hitting from Yasir Ali (42 not out) restored respectability while speedster Mohammad Wasim (3-24) enjoyed late success with the yorker.

Players from both teams regularly slipped on a surface made hard by unexpected weather conditions earlier in the week.

A cold blast left ground staff sweeping snow from the covers and outfield on Thursday morning.

Temperatures hovered around a relatively warm 12 degrees Celsius (54F) throughout the match, the earliest ever staged in a New Zealand home season.

New Zealand will play Pakistan on Saturday and Bangladesh on Sunday, both at the same venue.


Pakistan says strongly contests ratings downgrade by Moody’s

Updated 10 min 8 sec ago

Pakistan says strongly contests ratings downgrade by Moody’s

  • Moody’s cut Pakistan’s sovereign credit rating on Thursday by one notch to Caa1 from B3
  • Rating action was carried out unilaterally without prior consultations, finance ministry says

KARACHI: Pakistan said on Friday it “strongly contests” a ratings downgrade by agency Moody’s.

“The rating action by Moody’s was carried out unilaterally without prior consultations and meetings with our teams from the Ministry of Finance and State Bank of Pakistan,” said a statement by the finance ministry on Twitter.

Moody’s cut Pakistan’s sovereign credit rating on Thursday by one notch to Caa1 from B3, citing increased government liquidity and external vulnerability risks, following the devastating floods that hit the country earlier this year.


Over 3.4 million Pakistani children facing chronic hunger – aid group

Updated 24 min 21 sec ago

Over 3.4 million Pakistani children facing chronic hunger – aid group

  • Estimated 76,000 children in flood-hit areas experiencing severe food shortages, risking severe malnutrition
  • According to government data, 632 of the 1,700 people killed so far in the deadly floods have been children

ISLAMABAD: More than 3.4 million children in Pakistan are facing chronic hunger, with an estimated 76,000 children in flood-hit areas now experiencing acute food shortages and at the risk of severe malnutrition, Save the Children has said.

Earlier this week Pakistan and the United Nations jointly launched a humanitarian appeal of $816 million, revising it up five-fold from $160 million, as water-borne diseases and fear of growing hunger pose new dangers after weeks of unprecedented flooding in the South Asian nation that has left 33 million people struggling to survive.

Hundreds of children have died in the deluge that has devastated large parts of Pakistan’s southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, either drowned as waters flooded homes or struck by diseases, some of them water-borne.

According to official figures, 632 of the 1,700 killed so far in the floods have been children. In the aftermath, as flood waters begin to recede, which officials say may take two to six months, the regions have become infested with diseases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and skin problems.

“The number of people going hungry has soared by an alarming 45 percent since floods wreaked havoc across much of the country, rising from 5.96 million people before the floods hit to 8.62 million people now facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity – the majority of them in flood-affected regions,” Save the Children said in a statement, warning that hunger levels were expected to rise further with the onset of winter, putting millions of young lives at risk if urgent action was not taken.

The floods have devastated crops and livestock and, with goods scarce, prices have sources in Pakistan. The cost of basic food items has spiked since the floods, making them unaffordable for many families scrambling to survive after losing their homes and incomes.

“New research to be published next week by Save the Children found that 86 percent of families surveyed have lost their incomes since the floods, leaving them unable to afford food,” the statement added.

On Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said about 50 percent of the water had receded in the country’s worst-hit southern Sindh province, hoping that farmers would be able to sow wheat in a first step toward returning to normal life.

The government estimates damages caused by the floods, that have swept away homes, roads, bridges and livestock, are at least $30 billion.


UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims

Updated 33 min ago

UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims

  • Defeat, 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions, is only second time in UN rights council's history that motion has been rejected
  • China says motion an attempt by US and West to "use the UN human rights body to interfere in China's internal affairs"

GENEVA: The UN rights council on Thursday voted down a Western-led motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.

The defeat - 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions - is only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to both accountability efforts, the West's moral authority on human rights and the credibility of the United Nations itself.

The United States, Canada and Britain were among the countries that brought the motion.

"This is really disappointing," said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose mother died in a camp and whose two brothers are missing.

Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan rejected the motion, with the latter citing the risk of alienating China.

"Xinjiang-related issues are not human rights issues at all, but issues of counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation and anti-separatism," said China's foreign ministry late on Thursday.

The motion was an attempt by the United States and some Western countries to "use the UN human rights body to interfere in China's internal affairs," said the foreign ministry in a post on its official website.

China's envoy had warned before the vote that the motion would create a precedent for examining other countries' human rights records.

"Today China is targeted. Tomorrow any other developing country will be targeted," said Chen Xu, adding that a debate would lead to "new confrontations". read more

The UN rights office on Aug. 31 released a long-delayed report that found serious human rights violations in Xinjiang that may constitute crimes against humanity, ramping up pressure on China.

Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide. Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.

The motion is the first time that the rights record of China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, has been on the council's agenda. The item has stoked divisions and a diplomat said states were under "enormous pressure" from Beijing to back China.

Countries like Britain, the United States and Germany, vowed to continue to work towards accountability despite Thursday's outcome.


In Pakistan, mental health crisis brews among survivors of deadly floods

Updated 3 min 24 sec ago

In Pakistan, mental health crisis brews among survivors of deadly floods

  • Over 2,000 people came to Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas in Sindh between June and September seeking psychiatric treatment
  • The figure is at least a 10 percent increase from past four months, according to data from the facility and doctors’ testimonies

MIRPURKHAS, SINDH: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from the southern Pakistani district of Mirpurkhas, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week, complaining of anxiety and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

In August, Khan’s home and livestock were washed away in deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed nearly 1,700. The father of four has since been living with his family at a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst-hit by the floods, where water and vector borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normalcy is months, if not years, away.

Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said intensifying climate change impacts, from fiercer heatwaves to flooded homes, were driving a growing mental health crisis around the world.

A view of the psychiatric outpatient department (OPD) at the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas where Dr Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, examines a patient in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Before the floods, I did not have any psychiatric issues,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent swatting mosquitos and days with little food. “Now, I feel scared for mine and my family’s future.”

Pakistan’s minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman, has highlighted the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading water-borne diseases due to stagnant water, urging the developed world to accelerate funding for a disaster that she has said had no parallel in known history.

But little to no attention is being paid to the psychological toll of the catastrophe.

A view of a roadside temporary shelter for flood survivors in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Already, the damage from the floods is reflected in a jump in the number of people reporting mental health problems. Over 2,000 people came to the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas between June and September this year to seek psychiatric treatment, at least a 10 percent increase from the past four months, according to data from the facility.

“At Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas, the number of patients coming to the psychiatric outpatient department has increased by 10 percent as compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” Dr. Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, told Arab News. “The increased number of cases are flood-affected people who have faced trauma due to the widespread devastation.”

A view of a roadside temporary shelter for flood survivors in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Mental health patients, a majority of them male, were also arriving at the hospital from the nearby Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added. Diagnosed mental health problems were caused by financial stressed, as well as a lost sense of security.

The Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA) said the surge in mental health cases was mostly due to uncertain and deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the wake of the floods. It would take months, according to the body, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province where over 750 people have been killed, 2,045,349 homes damaged and 435,173 livestock lost.

A view of a roadside temporary shelter for flood survivors in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Officials say more than two million acres (809,371 hectares) of agricultural land has been flooded countrywide, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.

“This monsoon and floods affected farming communities’ dual crops, standing and upcoming. It also washed away their houses and uprooted them,” SMHA chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.

At this stage quantifying the number of mental health patients related to Sindh flood devastation is difficult and the SMHA will conduct a study after the flood water recedes close to the end of the year.”

Due to stagnant floodwater in agricultural fields, a large number of farmers were likely to miss the upcoming winter cultivation season Khawaja said. As the next cultivation season would begin in March 2023, many farmers would have no livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that was triggering mental health problems.

Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was assessed at 42 percent, while 85 percent of the 1,494 people surveyed had anxiety. Among the participants, 10 percent were reported to have received a psychiatric diagnosis.

A view of submerged houses on the Mirpurkhas-Sanghar road, Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Since the COVID pandemic is still continuing and so are its impacts, the devastation from floods has added to the mental health impacts [already] present in the society,” the SMHA chairman said.

“Floods have caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak because of poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”

A view of submerged agricultural lands on the Mirpurkhas-Sanghar road, Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

The province also does not have the requisite number of doctors to deal with the surge in mental health concerns, Khawaja said.

“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”

A girl poses at a roadside shelter in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)