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.
ISLAMABAD: International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and several other media defenders have called on political parties in Pakistan to commit to press freedom in the run-up to general elections, likely in January 2024.
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. According to the Freedom Network’s Annual Impunity 2022 Report, there were no convictions in 96 percent of journalist killings in the past 10 years in Pakistan.
“As Pakistan is about to hold general elections and political parties draft new election manifestos ... Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the country’s leading press clubs, national and provincial unions of journalists, and RSF’s Pakistan partner Freedom Network call on mainstream and provincial heads of contesting parties to pen their commitment to defending freedom of expression and protection of journalists in their party manifestos,” RSF said in a statement posted on its website this week.
“In the run-up to elections, the ball is now in the court of the political parties as regards defending press freedom, as well as journalistic independence and pluralism, as fundamental guarantees of a functioning democracy.”
RSF and the other media defenders called on political parties to make a concrete commitment to their proposals, starting with the search for legislative guarantees for the protection of journalists and the fight against impunity for crimes of violence against them.
Earlier this year, journalist Arshad Sharif, a known critic of the former Shahbaz Sharif-led coalition government and the all-powerful, went on the run and was killed in Kenya under mysterious circumstances. This week, Pakistani anchorperson and YouTuber Imran Riaz Khan returned home four months after he went missing following his arrest from Sialkot airport.
“As the situation of journalists in Pakistan worsens in the run-up to the general elections, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and several defenders of journalism are launching a crucial appeal to the Pakistani political parties,” RSF said.
Elections in the troubled South Asian nation, initially scheduled for November, were postponed due to constituency redrawing through a new census. The election authority announced last week the vote will now take place in late January, following procedures such as nomination filings, appeals, and campaigning.
Pakistan is currently under a caretaker government led by interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, tasked with supervising upcoming elections. However, concerns have arisen over the government’s impartiality, as Kakar belongs to a pro-military party, and it seems to align with opponents of the imprisoned ex-PM Imran Khan.
As it stands, Khan, the primary opposition leader, is ineligible to participate in this election due to a five-year public office ban resulting from a corruption inquiry.
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani foreign office said on Thursday the South Asian nation welcomed “positive outcomes” of a recent dialogue between Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman, aimed at charting a roadmap for peace in Yemen.
Yemen is in the eighth year of a civil war between the government and Houthi rebels that has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and a severe humanitarian crisis.
A peace dialogue took place in Riyadh from September 14 to 18 during which the Saudi communication and coordination team engaged with a group from the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, while an Omani delegation also participated. The talks are focused on a full reopening of Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, payment of wages for public servants, rebuilding efforts, and a timeline for foreign forces to quit Yemen. An agreement would allow the United Nations to restart a broader political peace process.
“Pakistan welcomes the positive outcome of the dialogue, held in Riyadh from 14 to 18 September 2023, between the officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Sultanate of Oman, aimed at achieving a road map for the peace process in Yemen,” a statement from the ministry of foreign affairs said.
Pakistan also commended the Saudi-led effort to facilitate dialogue between the Saudi defense minister and the Sana’a delegation, stating that it demonstrated the Kingdom’s “positive intentions,” guided by its leadership.
“Pakistan reiterates its principled support for a political solution to the Yemeni crisis through dialogue and consultation,” the statement added.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani on Thursday confirmed that 200 members of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had been arrested by Afghan authorities, saying Pakistan would ask for them to be extradited if they were not Afghan citizens.
Pakistan says the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, have become emboldened since the Afghan Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war. Authorities say the insurgents, who are allied but separate from the Afghan Taliban, have found sanctuaries and have even been living openly in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.
The TTP has stepped up its attacks on Pakistan since November last year when it unilaterally called off a tenuous peace deal that had been brokered by Kabul.
The Afghan government says it does not permit its soil to be used by armed groups against other nations.
“During our last meeting, they [Afghan Taliban] have told us about it [arrests] and we expect these [TTP] people will be kept behind bars and dealt with according to the law,” Jilani told reporters, adding that Islamabad would ask for them to be extradited if they were not Afghans.
A spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban did not respond to request for comment on the arrests.
Jilani said Pakistan’s position on Palestine had not changed, amid US-sponsored efforts to normalize Israeli relations with Muslim states, including Saudi Arabia.
Israel has moved closer to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco following a US-driven diplomatic initiative in 2020 which pushed for normalization of relations. Expectations that Israel might normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s two holiest shrines, were ratcheted up last week after the Saudi crown prince said in an interview the two countries were moving steadily closer to normalizing relations with Israel.
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and has repeatedly called for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
“The position of Pakistan on Israel and Palestine was the same yesterday and is the same today, and it will always be the same in the future as well,” the Pakistani foreign minister said.
“Our policy is linked to the rights of Palestinian people,” Jilani added.
“The issue of Palestine’s right to self-determination is the same as Kashmiris and if we say that it is the same for the Palestinians and Kashmiris then it becomes part of our national interest to support both.”
Speaking about the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — set up in June to attract foreign funding, particularly from GCC nations, in agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, Jilani said the forum had become “extremely popular” among international investors and was attracting interest from Middle Eastern countries.
“There are a lot of MOUs and agreements which are in the works, and we are expecting delegations from respective GCC countries very soon,” Jilani said, adding that agreements would be finalized in the fields of agriculture, information technology, mines, and minerals, energy, and defense production, mostly as joint ventures.
On reports that India was denying visas to Pakistani fans wanting to travel to the neighboring country to watch the Cricket World Cup from Oct. 5-Nov. 19, Jilani said Islamabad would take it up with Delhi through “diplomatic channels.”
“I believe PCB [Pakistan Cricket Board] should also play an active role in talking to the Indian Cricket Board because this is also in ICC [International Cricket Council] rules, that if a team is visiting your country, you allow its spectators to visit,” the foreign minister said.
“And if ICC has this rule to allow spectators of the visiting team to go to that place, then they should put pressure on India to implement it.”
Travel between the two arch-rivals is usually an issue for players also due to the diplomatic tensions between the governments. Pakistan and India haven’t played a bilateral series in any format since 2012-13.
Injured Naseem’s absence could hamper Pakistan’s title bid at Cricket World Cup
Fast bowler Naseem Shah was believed to be key weapon in Babar’s pace armory to conquer batters in India
Pakistan have seen seven unsuccessful attempts over three decades since 1992 victory against England
Updated 28 September 2023
It’s been 31 years since Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ — without injured Waqar Younis — roared at the right moment and Pakistan won the Cricket World Cup in Australia.
After seven unsuccessful attempts over three decades since that famous 1992 victory in the final against England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the script is quite similar for Pakistan skipper Babar Azam for the Oct. 5-Nov. 19 tournament in India.
Young fast bowler Naseem Shah was believed to be the key weapon in Babar’s pace armory to conquer the batters on cricket pitches across the border in company with pace duo of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf.
But too much workload over the last year — that included playing in the Lanka Premier League just before the Asia Cup — finally took its toll on the 20-year-old Naseem.
Naseem injured his right shoulder during the Super 4 stage game against archrival India in the Asia Cup which now requires surgery and could delay his return to international cricket for three to four months.
Energetic Hasan Ali, who hasn’t been part of Pakistan’s white-ball cricket for over a year, got a surprise recall to fill in for Naseem after several other in contention like tall fast bowler Ihsanullah and Mohammad Hasnain were also ruled out because of various injuries and the selectors preferred to keep another young pacer Zaman Khan on the list of traveling reserves.
“We have been struggling to pick fast bowlers because of injuries, it was not just Naseem’s injury,” said chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq. “We focused on choosing experienced players as we wanted someone familiar with the conditions and could take the pressure of a big event like the World Cup. That is why we picked Hasan Ali.”
While Babar continues to blossom at the top of ICC batting rankings by scoring plenty of runs in white-ball cricket, there are several cracks in his bowling department which could hurt Pakistan’s chances to qualify for the semifinals.
Naseem has showed his ability to choke runs not only in the batting powerplay and in the middle-overs, but also conceded less than run-a-ball during the final overs when the batters normally push the scoring pedal with their big hitting.
However, neither the fast bowlers nor the spinners could make any impact during the Asia Cup which saw Pakistan losing to India by a hefty margin of 228 runs and then Sri Lanka’s inexperienced side overhauled the target of 252 runs which knocked out Pakistan from the final spot.
The form of Babar’s deputy — allrounder Shadab Khan — is also not impressive this year with the leg-spinner picking up only 13 wickets in 11 ODIs and scoring 138 runs at an average of 19.71.
The silver lining for Babar’s Team Pakistan is that Afridi and Rauf could dismantle any top order in the World Cup as they showed during the abandoned group game against India in the Asia Cup.
But it is the lack of spinners’ ability to pick up wickets in the middle overs which is worrying Inzamam.
“The three spinners (Shadab Khan, Usama Mir and Mohammad Nawaz) have been with the team and are good players,” Inzamam said when he announced the squad. “They need to work harder to be effective in the middle overs because it is very important for the spinners to play their role.”
Left-handed opener Imam-ul-Haq is among the top four ODI batters in the world, but the form of Fakhar Zaman has raised many questions about the left-handed batter’s ability in the top-order. Since his three successive ODI hundreds at home against New Zealand,
Fakhar hasn’t scored a half century in the subsequent 11 games. He seemed to be fatigued by long travels during the Asia Cup, scoring only 65 runs in four matches.
But Babar’s brilliance with the bat could see Pakistan post imposing totals against more challenging sides such as India, England and Australia with players like Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed giving the skipper support in the middle-order.
Pakistan has two relatively easier opponents before its marquee match against India at Ahmedabad on Oct. 14. It will be taking on first-timer the Netherlands in the opening match before meeting Sri Lanka.
ISLAMABAD: Army chief General Asim Munir said on Thursday actions would continue against “illegal activities” causing economic losses to Pakistan as it treads a tricky path to recovery following a $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout.
The army chief was referring to, among other actions, a crackdown on dollar hoarding and smuggling that has led to a continuing appreciation of Pakistan’s national currency and which currency dealers have widely credited the country’s all-powerful army of spearheading. Tens of millions of dollars have poured back into Pakistan’s interbank and open markets since raids on black market operators began on Sept. 6.
While there have been other attempts to curb the black market when the rupee has been under stress, the latest push came after licensed dealers requested army chief General Munir to take action, rather than leave it solely to the civilian caretaker government that was put in place last month to run Pakistan till elections, currently expected to be held early next year. Munir had reportedly promised dealers “transparency in dollar exchange and interbank rates.”
During a visit to Lahore, General Munir said the military would continue to assist the government in its economic recovery plans.
“Law Enforcement Actions against spectrum of illegal activities will continue with full force in collaboration with the LEAs and the concerned government departments to rid Pakistan from the substantial economic losses it continues to suffer due to pilferage done by different methods,” the army chief said.
Last week, Malik Bostan, chairman of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP), told reporters a task force was made after the problem of dollar hoarding and smuggling was escalated to the army chief.
Controlling the open market rate is critical for Pakistan following a $3 billion bailout from the IMF that was agreed in July to help avert a sovereign default.
An IMF demand that the difference between the interbank and open market does not exceed 1.25 percent will be a key part of discussions set to begin later this month, before the release of the next tranche of the bailout.