Thousands protest, demand restoration of peace in Swat Valley day after school van attack

Residents take part in a protest a day after an attack on a school bus in Mingora on October 11, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 11 October 2022

Thousands protest, demand restoration of peace in Swat Valley day after school van attack

  • Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a school van in Swat’s Charbagh area on Monday, killing driver and injuring a student
  • Locals fear a return of militants amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad and drawn-out negotiations that began last year

PESHAWAR: Thousands came out in protest on Tuesday in Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a day after unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a school van, killing the driver and injuring one student. 

Though the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) have denied involvement, the attack was reminiscent of the 2012 TTP attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted, aged 15, for defying the militant group with her outspoken views on women’s right to education. 

TTP insurgents took partial control of Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2007, before being ousted two years later in a major military operation hailed as a telling blow against militant violence. During this time, militants unleashed a reign of terror, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents. They banned female education and destroyed almost 200 girls’ schools. 

In recent weeks, there have been widespread reports of a return of militants to the valley, amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad and drawn-out negotiations that began last year. 

Last month, a bombing claimed by the TTP killed eight people, including influential anti-Taliban leader Idrees Khan, in what was the first major bombing in the area in more than a decade. 

On Tuesday, political activists and members of civil society and the public came out on the city’s main intersection chanting slogans against Monday’s attack and calling for the restoration of peace. 




Relatives and residents take part in a protest with the body of a school bus driver a day after he was shot dead in an attack on his bus in Mingora on October 11, 2022.  (AFP)

The protest was organized by the activist group, the Swat Olasi Passion, and the ethnic rights Pashtun Tahafuz Moment (PTM). 

“The protest was organized to condemn several incidents of terrorism that have been reported during the last few weeks in Swat,” Mazhar Azad, one of the organizers of the priests, said. “The protest has been organized after several attacks on local people.” 

A participant in the protest and the spokesperson of the Swat Qami Jargi, Ahmad Shah, said the protesters wanted “justice done” and the suspects in Monday’s attack arrested immediately. He called for the state to ensure peace in Swat. 

Former senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan raised slogans of “We don’t accept this!” referring to reports of the return of the Taliban to Swat. 

“Fencing has been done, the army is guarding the border,” he said, referring to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “[Paramilitary] Frontier Corps, the police are there, then how have the Taliban come [back] to Swat?” 

Khan said the family of the deceased driver had no personal enmities. 




Relatives and residents take part in a protest with the body of a school bus driver a day after he was shot dead in an attack on his bus in Mingora on October 11, 2022. (AFP)

The head of the PTM, Pashteen, questioned if the Taliban were returning to Swat as part of a deal made during ongoing talks. The military and the government have in the past denied this. 

Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the TTP, condemned the attack on Monday and said that the group was not involved. 

Sawab Khan, president of the Private Schools Management Association, told The Associated Press that all 1,300 private schools in the Swat Valley were shut Monday and Tuesday. From Wednesday, private schools would observe a partial strike and teachers and staff would hold a demonstration. 

“The government is not taking the issue seriously,” Haider Ali, a social activist who was among the protesters, told local media, saying the suspects should be arrested immediately. 

“We have now given 24 hours to the government to meet our demands,” he warned, “or else we will march to Islamabad.” 
 


Pakistan's UN envoy criticized for saying Taliban's women restrictions 'flow' from Pashtun culture

Updated 8 sec ago

Pakistan's UN envoy criticized for saying Taliban's women restrictions 'flow' from Pashtun culture

  • Ambassador Munir Akram says keeping women at home 'distinctive cultural reality' of Afghanistan and Pashtuns
  • Afghan envoy to Sri Lanka refutes Munir’s statement, says millions of Pashtun girls attended schools since time immemorial

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s United Nations envoy Munir Akram drew flak on social media for equating the Taliban government's restrictions on women with the Pashtun culture, during a briefing at the UN in New York on Thursday. 

Last year, the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan provoked anger in many parts of the world when it issued edicts banning women from attending universities and secondary schools. The Afghan government also ordered local and foreign aid organizations to ban women from working in their offices. 

The Taliban justified the move by saying some women had not adhered to their interpretation of the Islamic dress code.

In view of the situation, the UN’s deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed last month met Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in Kabul to discuss women’s education. Mutaqqi said Afghan women were able to work in health and education.

Akram briefed UN member states on the recent high-level visits to Afghanistan by two separate delegations, one led by the UN deputy secretary-general, and the other by the UN emergency relief coordinator. During his speech, the Pakistani diplomat said the Taliban’s decision to bar women from seeking education and employment stemmed from cultural beliefs, rather than religious ones.

“From our perspective, the restrictions that have been put by the Afghan interim government flow not so much from a religious perspective as from a peculiar cultural perspective of the Pashtun culture, which requires women to be kept at home,” Akram said during the briefing.

“And this is a peculiar, distinctive cultural reality of Afghanistan which has not changed for hundreds [of years]," he added. 

Munir said that to expect a complete transformation overnight on the condition that aid will stop to the Afghan people if they do not adhere to international standards was a “rather optimistic expectation.”

M. Ashraf Haidari, the ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, took a strong exception to Akram’s statement, asking the UN to “immediately refute this piece of disinformation.”

“Since time immemorial, millions of Pashtun girls have gone to school and university. Just talk to Malala!” Haidari wrote in a Twitter thread.

“Afghans in general and Pashtuns in particular on both sides of the Durand Line condemn in the strongest terms possible this false statement by [Pakistan’s UN envoy]. He deliberately avoids blaming the extremist ideology of the Taliban for the gender apartheid in Afghanistan, which the TTP now desires to enforce in Pakistan too as soon as they can.”

He added the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP’s recent claim of the attack on the Peshawar mosque, which killed 101 people and injured more than 200, was “proof that not the Afghan culture but the ideological indoctrination the Taliban receive in Pakistani madrassas guides their brutality”.

 

Pakistani digital rights activist, Usama Khilji, wrote on Twitter that Akram’s statement was “extremely embarrassing”.

“Ban on [the] education of girls is not Pashtun culture, it’s Taliban culture that Pashtuns have fought against for decades.”

 

Ziauddin Yousafzai, education activist and Malala's father, said the statement was "Disgusting and disgraceful."

"You must apologise [to] 50 Million Pakhtuns of Pakistan by misrepresenting and humiliating them at the @UN," he added.  

 

During the briefing, Pakistan also called for continued “engagement” with the Taliban government in a bid to develop guidelines on human rights, especially women’s rights, in Afghanistan that will conform more closely to the international community’s wishes, saying the old approach of using financial pressure to achieve the objective is not working.


Saudi aid agency KSrelief launches third phase of relief project for Pakistan flood survivors

Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi aid agency KSrelief launches third phase of relief project for Pakistan flood survivors

  • KSrelief will distribute 25,000 non-food items, 25,000 winter relief kits among 350,000 flood victims
  • KSrelief official says agency will launch another project to build houses in flood-affected areas

ISLAMABAD: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) on Thursday launched the third phase of its relief project to distribute 25,000 non-food items (NFI) and an equal number of relief kits to help over 350,000 flood victims in Pakistan, a senior official of the Saudi aid agency said. 

Devastating floods in June 2022 killed over 1,700, destroyed businesses and livelihoods, and affected over 33 million people in Pakistan. The deluges inflicted damages of over $30 billion for Pakistan, the country estimates, and left thousands of Pakistanis direly needing food, shelter, and other forms of assistance. 

KSrelief, with one of the largest humanitarian budgets for aid agencies across the world, has been undertaking humanitarian projects across 88 countries. Pakistan is the fifth largest beneficiary of the organization’s aid and humanitarian operations.

According to the KSrelief data, the agency has completed 170 projects in Pakistan in education, healthcare, water, sanitation, hygiene, emergency camps, and community support. These collectively have cost roughly $163 million in the last 17 years.

After last year's floods, KSrelief has already distributed 10,000 NFI and 25,000 winter relief kits in the first phase of the project to help Pakistan's flood victims, which was completed in December 2022.

“It is the launch of the second and third phase of the non-food relief items for flood victims and 350,000 individuals will benefit from this relief assistance,” Dr. Khalid Mohammed Alothmani, KSrelief Pakistan director, said during the launching ceremony in Islamabad.

He said KSrelief took the initiative to provide 25,000 NFI kits and 25,000 winter relief kits—which weighed approximately 3,965 tonnes—keeping in mind the devastating floods and the critical need for humanitarian items. 

 “Each NFIs kit comprises two blankets, a shelter kit with plastic matt, a kitchen set with jerry can and antibiotic soaps,” he said. The winter kits, he said, included two quilts, shawls for men and women, 10 pairs of socks for men, women, and children, four children's caps, two children's mufflers, and sweaters. 

There were also four warmers for men and women of the needy families that were residing in the colder flood-affected regions of the country, Alothmani said. 

“The third and fourth phase of the NFI project is under distribution process and will be completed soon in all the affected areas of Punjab and Sindh,” he shared. 

Alothmani said relief packages would be distributed in collaboration with Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the help of registered NGOs, who would act as implementing partners, and local governments.

“We are also soon launching another project to build houses for the rehabilitation of schools and basic health units in the affected areas,” the KSrelief director informed.

In his remarks, Saudi ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki said KSrelief always remained at the forefront to help the "brotherly people" of Pakistan in their time of need.

“On behalf of my country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, all these relief items are a gift for the brotherly country Pakistan,” he added.

“I would like to give our Pakistani brothers the firm commitment of the Saudi government and its leadership to always stand by our Pakistani brothers, to enrich our brotherly relations to new heights,” Al-Malki said.

NDMA chairman, Lieutenant General Inam Haider Malik, thanked Saudi Arabia and other friendly countries for coming to Pakistan's aid. 

“This support has come in handy not only for the rescue and relief part of our flood victims' support plan but also as it is a source of great support for Pakistan’s reconstruction and rehabilitation too,” he added..

He said Pakistan acknowledge KSrelief teams for their efforts in working with the local government and ensuring that rescue articles reached flood victims who had lost everything in the cataclysmic deluges. 

“We have also been working with our partners and donors to remodel our response regime where we would like to be more proactive and engaged with our developing partners to showcase our ability to identify the exact requirements from the local area,” Malik said.


Pakistani rupee plummets to all-time low against US dollar at 271

Updated 02 February 2023

Pakistani rupee plummets to all-time low against US dollar at 271

  • Pakistan's rupee declines by Rs2.53 or 0.93% against US dollar, according to central bank data
  • Pakistani rupee continues free fall after currency dealers removed cap on exchange rate last week

KARACHI: Pakistan's rupee continued its free fall against the US dollar on Thursday, with the greenback reaching an all-time high of Rs271.36, a week after Islamabad removed artificial controls from its exchange market to secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package. 

After Pakistan's currency dealers announced removing the exchange rate cap last week, the rupee declined by a massive Rs25 or 9.6% in a single day. With a staggering $3.6 billion in reserves barely enough to cover import payments for a month, Islamabad has agreed to the IMF's tough conditionalities to revive a stalled $7 billion loan program it hopes would lead to more inflows from multilateral organizations and "friendly countries."

The IMF has been pushing Pakistan to remove artificial controls from its exchange market. Experts have warned the rapid weakening of the rupee would usher in an inflationary storm in the country. 

On Thursday, Pakistan's central bank shared data on Twitter according to which the rupee declined by Rs2.53 or 0.93%, with the greenback selling at Rs271.36 in the interbank market. 

 

 

 

"The Pakistani rupee witnessed pressure and closed at a record low against the U.S. dollar mainly due to less inflows of export proceeds," Zafar Sultan Paracha, general secretary of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, said. 

"The country’s political and economic situation also continued to exert pressure on the rupee," he added. 

Earlier this week, international credit ratings agency, Finch Ratings, said Pakistan's rupee would further weaken and exacerbate inflation in the country.

Official data showed on Wednesday that Pakistan’s inflation rate surged to 27.6 percent, the highest in over four decades, on a year-on-year basis in January 2023. 

“In the near term, it [weakening rupee] could exacerbate imported inflationary pressure, and may eventually result in steeper policy rate hikes from the SOP,” Finch said. 


‘Why is this happening?’: Cops wounded in Peshawar suicide bombing search for answers

Updated 02 February 2023

‘Why is this happening?’: Cops wounded in Peshawar suicide bombing search for answers

  • Over 100 people, mostly policemen, were killed in attack at mosque inside a police compound in Peshawar this week
  • Hospital spokesperson says 46 policemen being treated treatment, seven in critical condition, 100 discharged

PESHAWAR: When Peshawar resident and police constable Muhammad Sohail was injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast during election duty in 2013, he could never have imagined this would not be his last brush with death.

On Monday, Sohail was one of over 220 people injured after a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in Peshawar, killing 101 people. The provincial police chief has said the attacker disguised himself in a police uniform and did not raise suspicion among guards before he carried out the attack, one of the deadliest ever in the capital city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The northwestern province and other parts of Pakistan have seen a rise in militant attacks since late last year when Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, militants called off a truce with the government. The TTP has denied responsibility for the latest attack, which no group has claimed so far.

“This was the second time that I got injured in an attack,” Sohail said from his hospital bed at the Lady Reading Hospital.

“I was going to offer prayers. When I completed my ablution, the congregation was ready for prayers and I stepped into the verandah quickly. Then all of a sudden I heard a loud sound.”

The next thing Sohail remembers is waking up in the hospital surrounded by doctors and other patients.

The 2013 attack badly injured Sohail’s feet and left him bedridden for nearly three years, having to arrange Rs500,000 for his treatment after receiving little government help, he said.

“Everything is at your own risk here [in the police department],” the police constable said, adding that he planned to resign from the police force. “Why is this happening, there is no one to ask. If you die, you die, if you get injured, you are injured.”

Muhammad Mahboob, a Dera Ismail Khan resident who was in Peshawar for a month-long police refresher course, was also injured in Monday’s attack.

He described hearing the prayer leader saying “Allah-hu-Akbar,” right before the blast, which threw him up in the air and against a wall. He was buried under three feet of debris.

“I recited the kalima [Islamic phrase] thinking that life is over,” Mahboob told Arab News from hospital where he is being treated for pelvic fractures and awaiting surgery.

“I motivated myself to push for a last struggle for survival and tried to remove the bricks from around my body but my hands were motionless.”

After he called for help, four people came to his rescue.

Lady Reading Hospital Spokesperson, Muhammad Asim, said 46 injured policemen were under treatment at Peshawar's largest medical facility, of which seven were in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU):

“We have discharged almost 100 injured in the past three days after they got timely medical treatment.”

Inspector General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Moazzam Jan Ansari told the media on Thursday that senior police officers have visited the injured and they were being provided assistance from a police welfare fund.

Interim chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Azam Khan has also promised financial support for the injured and the families of the dead. But on Wednesday, a large number of policemen protested in front of the Peshawar Press Club, demanding a fair investigation into the incident.

“We need an answer to the question of why is all this happening,” Mahboob said. “Every day when one scrolls through Facebook, you can see police being attacked. Just coffins are given shoulders and funerals are held, but no one answers the question: Why is this even happening?”


Amid economic crisis, Pakistan finance minister asks charity network to raise $2 billion from expats

Updated 47 min 8 sec ago

Amid economic crisis, Pakistan finance minister asks charity network to raise $2 billion from expats

  • Saylani Welfare International Trust sought Ishaq Dar’s approval to get interest-free debt for the country from Pakistani diaspora
  • The country is facing severe dollar liquidity crunch amid depleting foreign exchange reserves, growing import payment demand

KARACHI: Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar on Thursday allowed a charity organization operating in the country to voluntarily raise about $2 billion in debt to support the national exchequer amid ongoing economic turmoil.

Addressing a gathering on the Islamization of economy, Dar told the chairman of Saylani Welfare International Trust, Bashir Farooqui, he was free to generate money from overseas Pakistanis by utilizing his network. However, he said all the transactions must be kept transparent.

“The transactions must be transparent and well documented and the money must be raised under the defined procedures,” the minister said while participating in the gathering through a video link from Islamabad.

Farooqui had sought permission from Dar to generate the required amount during the course of the program.

“The debt will be raised for five years and will be interest-free,” he said. “The collected amount will be handed over to the government.”

Pakistan's finance minister Ishaq Dar addresses an event focusing on the Islamization of the country's economy through a video link from Islamabad, Pakistan, on February 2, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Finance Ministry)

Pakistan is currently facing an acute dollar liquidity crunch with official foreign exchange reserve down to $3.6 billion against the average import cover of $5 billion.

Responding to the Saylani Welfare Trust chairman, the finance minister asked him to coordinate with the central bank to determine the contours and mechanism of the proposed scheme while directing State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) officials to facilitate and record any inflows through meticulous documentation.

Dar also said the subject of Islamic economic system came very close to his heart, adding that he prayed for the elimination of interest-based financial environment.

“One of the actions taken in this regard has been the formation of a high-level steering committee consisting of all key stakeholders, including the finance ministry and central bank officials, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Shariah experts,” he said.

Pakistan’s Federal Shariat Court (FSC) directed the government last April to eliminate riba – or interest – within five years.

Dar maintained it was possible to Islamize Pakistan’s economy even before the given deadline.

“There is no reason why we can’t achieve the Islamization of economy before five years,” he said.