Pakistani Taliban racketeering hits borderlands

In this picture taken on October 25, 2022, commuters make their way along a busy road in a market area of Mingora, in the Swat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2022

Pakistani Taliban racketeering hits borderlands

  • Pakistani Taliban share lineage with Afghan Taliban, but were most potent from 2007 to 2009
  • Pakistani military pounced on local militants in 2014 after they killed over 100 schoolchildren

MINGORA: A lawmaker in Pakistan’s rugged northwest was sipping tea with voters when his phone chirped to life — the Taliban were calling with a demand for “donations.” 

“We hope you won’t disappoint,” read the chilling text from a shady go-between of the Pakistan chapter of the Islamists, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). 

A second message pinged on-screen: “Refusal to provide financial support will make you a problem,” it warned. 

“We believe a wise man will understand what we mean by that.” 

After the Taliban takeover in neighboring Afghanistan, TTP racketeering has infested Pakistan’s borderlands, locals say, with the group emboldened by its sister movement’s success. 

Since July, the provincial lawmaker — who asked to remain anonymous — has been cowed into sending the TTP sums totalling 1.2 million rupees (over $5,000). 

“Those who don’t pay have to face the consequences. Sometimes they throw a grenade at their door. Sometimes they shoot,” he told AFP. 

“Most of the elites pay the extortion money. Some pay more, some pay less. But nobody talks about it. 

“Everyone is scared for their life.” 




In this picture taken on October 25, 2022, women walk along a road in a market area of Mingora in the Swat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. (AFP)

The TTP share lineage with the Afghan Taliban, but were most potent from 2007 to 2009, when they spilled out of the jagged belt splitting Pakistan and Afghanistan and overran the Swat Valley just 140 kilometers (85 miles) north of Islamabad. 

The Pakistani military came down hard in 2014, after militants raided a school for children of army personnel and killed nearly 150 people, mostly pupils. 

The TTP were largely routed, their fighters fleeing to Afghanistan where they were hunted by US-led forces. 

With Afghanistan back under Taliban rule, it has become an “open shelter” for the TTP, according to Imtiaz Gul, an analyst with Islamabad’s Center for Research and Security Studies. 

“They now have freedom of action while living in Afghanistan,” he said. 

“That’s a simple explanation for why the TTP attacks rose.” 

In the year since the Taliban’s return, militant activity in Pakistan has spiked, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, with around 433 people killed. 

“They started the same old game: target killings, bomb blasts, kidnappings — and making calls for extortion,” Swat community activist Ahmad Shah said. 

The blackmail network bankrolls the TTP, but also sows a crisis of confidence in local government the militants seek to usurp in favor of Islamist rule. 

Provincial MP Nisar Mohmand estimates 80 to 95 percent of well-off residents in surrounding districts are now blackmail victims. 

Fellow legislators have been targeted for refusing to pay out, and some are too fearful to visit their precincts. 

“They have their own system of reward and punishment,” said Mohmand. “They have established an alternate government, so how are people supposed to resist?” 

The Afghan Taliban have long-standing differences with their Pakistani counterparts, and since capturing Kabul have pledged not to host international jihadist groups. 

But the first telltale sign of a TTP blackmail attempt is the phone number — starting with the +93 international code indicating an Afghan SIM card. 

Then comes a suggestive text, or voice message in Pashto — spoken with a Pakistani lilt. 

AFP heard one message threatening an “action squad” would be dispatched to a landlord if he declined to pay. 

“The days of cruelty are near. Don’t think we are a spent force,” it warns. 

The sum “owed” is then hashed out, generally through an intermediary, before it is sent to the ragged bands of TTP fighters whose silhouettes haunt the mountain steeps. 

Victims expect to be “tapped up” up to five times a year, the anonymous MP said. 

Since the 2014 school slaughter, which horrified Pakistanis even marginally sympathetic to their cause, the TTP has pledged to avoid civilian targets, and claims extortion is done by criminals borrowing their brand. 

But a civilian intelligence official in the area insisted they were “the root cause of the menace.” 

Swat — a snow-capped mountain valley split by turquoise running waters — is one of Pakistan’s most famed beauty spots, but its reputation has a dark side. 

In 2012 then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the TTP while campaigning for girls’ education, a campaign that later earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. 

This summer thing seemed to have slipped irredeemably back toward those dark days. 

After a decade-long hiatus, the anonymous MP started receiving blackmail texts once again. 

“The situation was so bad that many people were thinking of migration,” said Shah. “Life was at a standstill.” 

But there has been pushback, and several protests against the TTP have been held since the group’s high-profile kidnapping of three officials in August. 

Businesses shut and thousands spilled into the streets in rallies up and down the valley. 

Pakistan’s military claimed reports of strong TTP in the area were “grossly exaggerated and misleading.” 

Still, in Pakistan’s borderlands, attacks and extortion continue unchecked — despite a professed negotiation truce between the TTP and Islamabad. 

The Taliban’s return in Kabul, despite being pounded for 20 years by the world’s strongest armies, shows military might will not end the ordeal. 

“We have to search a solution which is acceptable to both sides,” said government negotiator Muhammad Ali Saif. 

“A lasting settlement will have to be found.” 


Japan announces $38.9 million grant for Pakistan’s flood victims

Updated 07 December 2022

Japan announces $38.9 million grant for Pakistan’s flood victims

  • Floods in Pakistan earlier this year killed over 1,700, demolished millions of homes
  • Japan says will support Pakistan’s floods victims with international organizations

ISLAMABAD: Japan announced a grant assistance of $38.9 million for Pakistan as part of the country’s efforts to deliver life-saving aid to flood victims, the Japanese embassy in Pakistan announced on Tuesday.

Unusually heavy rains and melting glaciers during the monsoon season in Pakistan this year triggered flash floods in many parts of the country. Over 1,700 people were killed while millions of houses were swept away by raging currents.

The floods, as per Pakistan’s estimates, inflicted losses of up to $30 billion on the country. Millions were displaced from their homes while thousands continue to suffer from water-borne and vector-borne diseases.

Pakistan has appealed to the international community for aid to mitigate the massive losses caused to it by the floods.

“On December 2, the Government of Japan announced its plan to provide grant assistance of USD 38.9 million to Pakistan as part of Japan’s supplementary budget to deliver life-saving aid to the flood victims,” the Embassy of Japan in Pakistan said in a statement.

It said Japan would support flood victims in various social and economic dimensions in partnership with international organizations across Pakistan’s four provinces and in its capital city, Islamabad.

The embassy said an amount of $34.2 million would be provided for emergency medical assistance, food distribution, agriculture and livestock restoration, livelihood recreation, and gender-based violence risk mitigation and response.

“In order to ensure the rapid rollout to reach the most vulnerable, these projects will commence in January 2023,” it added.

Japan, the embassy said, would also provide support through JICA, equivalent to USD 4.7 million, for recovery from the floods in health, agriculture, education, gender, and resilient disaster management.


Pakistan could be world’s sixth largest economy by 2075— Goldman Sachs report

Updated 07 December 2022

Pakistan could be world’s sixth largest economy by 2075— Goldman Sachs report

  • China to overtake US as world’s largest economy by 2050, report says
  • Climate catastrophe, populist nationalists in power risk to projections

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan could be the sixth largest economy in the world by 2075, according to a report compiled by renowned US investment banking firm Goldman Sachs earlier this week.

Titled ‘The Path to 75’, the research report predicts the state of the global economy in the decades to come and goes as far as 2075. 

According to the report, China will dethrone the US in 2050 to become the largest economy in the world. However, by 2075, the report predicts the largest economies in the world would be China, India, the US, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

“By 2075, with the appropriate policies and institutions, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt could be among the world’s largest economies,” it stated. The prediction regarding Pakistan’s growth was made due to the country’s population growth in the years to come.

The report warned, however, that climate catastrophes and populist leaders were risks to its projections.
It added that populist nationalists in power may lead to increased protectionism that could potentially result in the reversal of globalization which could increase income inequality across countries.

Furthermore, Goldman Sachs predicted that global growth will average just under 3 percent a year over the next decade, down from 3.6 percent in the decade before the financial crisis. The report said that global growth would be on a gradually declining path afterwards, reflecting a slowing of the labor force growth.

In another key projection, the report said that emerging markets would continue to converge with industrial nations as China, the US, India, Indonesia and Germany top the league table of the largest economies when measured in dollars.

Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt could also be among the biggest, it added.


Saudi Arabia committed to averting Pakistan’s economic crisis— ex-envoy Ali Asseri

Updated 07 December 2022

Saudi Arabia committed to averting Pakistan’s economic crisis— ex-envoy Ali Asseri

  • Pakistani PM has ability, courage and will to take country forward, ex-Saudi envoy says
  • Ambassador highlights ongoing ‘major transformation’ in Pak-Saudi economic relations

Saudi Arabia is committed to rescuing Pakistan’s economy and help the country achieve political and economic stability, Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Pakistan, said on Wednesday.

The statement from the ex-Saudi envoy comes at a time when the South Asian nation reels from dwindling foreign exchange reserves, a depreciating currency and a ballooning current account deficit amid soaring inflation.

To make matters worse, torrential rains in mid-June triggered flash floods across the country, killing over 1,700, destroying millions of homes and washing away large swathes of crops. Pakistan estimates losses from the climate disaster to be over $30 billion.

Speaking at the Islamabad Conclave organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Asseri said it was crucial for Pakistan to achieve economic stability as it brings about political stability and can help Pakistan safeguard its national security.

“This is clear from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal resolve for not only addressing Pakistan’s immediate financial needs but also guaranteeing long-term investments in the energy sector,” he said.

Asseri said PM Shehbaz Sharif has the “ability, courage and will” to take Pakistan forward. “He can count on the Saudi nation and its leadership for whatever support is needed for economic and political stability,” he added.

Asseri pointed out that the Saudi Vision 2030 offered “enormous opportunities” for Pakistan’s trade and investment relationship with the kingdom. He said it was a chance for the South Asian nation to employ its skilled manpower in mega development projects.

He said a major transformation is underway in Pak-Saudi economic relations. Asseri said Riyadh was eyeing long-term investments in Pakistan.

“The Saudi leadership is committed to $20 billion dollars investment in refinery, petrochemical complex, mining and renewable energy projects in Pakistan,” he said.


Babar Azam reclaims number 3 position in ICC Test batter rankings

Updated 07 December 2022

Babar Azam reclaims number 3 position in ICC Test batter rankings

  • Babar Azam scored 136 runs in Pakistan’s first innings against England
  • Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne secures top spot in Test batter’s ranking

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s all-format captain Babar Azam on Wednesday reclaimed the third spot in the ICC Men’s Test Batting Rankings, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Azam, widely regarded as one of the best batters in international cricket today, is currently ranked at number 1 and number 4 on ICC’s ODI and T20I batters rankings. According to the latest update to the ICC rankings released on Wednesday, Azam reclaimed the number three spot he had lost with 879 points.

He scored an impressive 136 runs against England in Rawalpindi during the first Test match between Pakistan and England. However, Azam was unable to hold off the English bowling onslaught in the second innings, succumbing to 4 runs from 5 balls off a Ben Stokes delivery.

Pakistan ended up losing the match by 74 runs, earning flak from cricket analysts and pundits for their defensive approach. Stokes and the English side, on the other hand, won praise for playing attacking cricket and forcing a result out of a Test match that was headed for a certain draw.

Azam will have a chance to further move up the rankings as Pakistan take on England again in the second Test match of the series. The match will be played in Multan from December 9-13.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Marnus Lasbuschagne removed Joe Root to claim the top spot in the ICC’s Test Batter rankings.

Labuschagne registered scores of 204 and 104* against the West Indies during the first Test in Perth and that helped him take the top ranking and rise to a total of 935 rating points.

Currently, Australia’s Steven Smith is placed at number 2 with 893 points, followed by Azam with 879 points.  


Pakistan Supreme Court orders new investigation team to probe journalist's assassination

Updated 07 December 2022

Pakistan Supreme Court orders new investigation team to probe journalist's assassination

  • Fact-finding report says Arshad Sharif was forced to leave Pakistan, UAE after his relations suffered with military
  • The document says role of transnational characters is suspected behind the journalist’s assassination in Kenya

KARACHI: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday directed the federal government to constitute a new joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the assassination of journalist Arshad Sharif which, according to a fact-finding team (FFT), was the work of transnational individuals.

Sharif, a prominent Pakistani journalist who turned into a harsh critic of the incumbent government and the country’s military, was shot and killed by the police in the East African state of Kenya on October 23. The authorities in Nairobi described the incident as a case of “mistaken identity,” adding it took place when the journalist’s vehicle sped up and drove through a checkpoint.

The federal government constituted a five-member JIT to probe the murder a day after the first information report (FIR) was registered by the Islamabad police on the Supreme Court’s instructions on Tuesday. The FIR was lodged against three people, Waqar Ahmed, Khurram Ahmed and Tariq Wasi, who are suspected to have played a role in Sharif’s killing.

“The federal government should immediately constitute a new joint investigation team,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial said while hearing the suo moto case related to the matter. “The court wants an independent team to probe this case.”

Justice Bandial said the new team should include officials belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police. He argued the court had not constituted a judicial commission as demanded by Sharif’s family since it was a criminal case.

The slain journalist’s mother, who attended the proceedings along with her daughter-in-law, told the court the fact-finding report had recorded how her son was forced to leave Pakistan and then pressured to move out of Dubai.
The court proceedings would resume tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the fact-finding team’s report seen by Arab News said the role of transnational characters in Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan could not be ruled out in the assassination.

“Both the members of the FFT have a considered understanding that it is a case of planned targeted assassination with transnational characters rather than a case of mistaken Identity,” the report said.

The team noted there were compelling reasons for Sharif to leave Pakistan, adding that criminal cases registered against him in different districts were most likely the reason why he was also asked to leave by the UAE authorities.

“The four GSU [General Service Unit] police officials [in Kenya] ... had been used as instruments in this case under any influence, either financial or some other compulsion,” the report said, adding that Waqar, who hosted Sharif, was connected to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of Kenya and international intelligence agencies and police.

His brother, Khurram, was driving Sharif back to Nairobi when the shooting incident took place.

The fact-finding team said the role of Tariq Wasi was also dubious.

“Since he was the one who was directly linked with Waqar and who arranged for Arshad Sharif to be hosted by Waqar in Kenya, if indeed the case has a transnational angle, then Tariq Wasi would also become a key lynchpin for anybody wanting to murder Arshad Sharif,” the report added.

The document noted Sharif was widely considered throughout the journalistic community in Pakistan as a “pro-establishment journalist.” He was known to have a very positive relationship with the military and also developed a very close relationship with former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

The report said the slain journalist became critical of “the military’s stance” following the no-trust motion against Khan which resulted in the change of government in the country.

“That criticism became sharper and sharper and, in some cases, came out in very personal terms against certain individuals,” it maintained. “This created a rift with the institution.”

The document further said Sharif was struggling to reconcile his previous closeness to the military with his new anti-establishment stance, adding he was conducting a dialogue “either internally or with someone else.”

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq, Sharif’s lawyer and friend, confirmed to the fact-finding team that 16 cases had been registered against the slain journalist who left Pakistan due to the fear of being arrested. He added that some of these cases were brought against Sharif on the behest of a serving brigadier since the two developed a bad relationship after the downfall of Khan’s administration.

Pakistan’s military has so far not responded to the claim.