What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

People and rescue workers gather to look for survivors under a collapsed roof, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan on January 30, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 31 January 2023
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What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

  • TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months
  • TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques

ISLAMABAD: When a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.

In a post on Twitter, a commander for the group, Sarbakaf Mohmand, claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.

But more than 10 hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques or other religious sites, adding that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy. His statement did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The TTP’s denial also came after the Afghan Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Relations already are strained between Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who are sheltering the TTP leadership and fighters.

A look at the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has waged an insurgency in the country for 15 years:

WHY IS THE TTP FIGHTING AN INSURGENCY?

Angered by Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington in the war on terrorism, the TTP was officially set up by Pakistani militants in 2007 when different outlawed groups agreed to work together against Pakistan and support the Afghan Taliban, who were fighting US and NATO forces.

The TTP seeks stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody, and a reduction in Pakistani military presence in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province bordering Afghanistan that it has long used as a base.

The TTP has stepped up attacks on Pakistani soldiers and police since November, when it unilaterally ended a cease-fire with the government after the failure of months of talks, hosted by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in Kabul. The TTP has repeatedly warned police not to take part in operations against its fighters in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TTP AND THE AFGHAN TALIBAN?

The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP, which shares the group’s ideology.

TTP fighters used to hide in Pakistan’s tribal northwest and also had sanctuary in Afghanistan, but they mostly lived a fugitive existence.

However, the Afghan Taliban started openly sheltering the TTP when they came to power. The Afghan Taliban also released TTP leaders and fighters who had been arrested by previous administrations in Kabul.

The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not allow anyone, including the TTP, to use Afghan soil for attacks against any country, including Pakistan. But Pakistani officials say there is a disconnect between the words and actions of the Afghan Taliban, who could stop the TTP from launching attacks inside the country but are failing to do so.

The Pakistani Taliban have expressed their allegiance to the head of the Afghan Taliban, said Abdullah Khan, a senior defense analyst and managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

He added, however, that they have their own agenda and strategy.

TTP’s operations have largely been aimed at targeting Pakistani forces, similar to the Afghan Taliban’s agenda of ousting foreign forces from the country.

Khan fears that Pakistan will see a surge in militant violence in the coming weeks and months.

HAS VIOLENCE INCREASED RECENTLY?

Pakistan has seen innumerable militant attacks in the past two decades, but there has been an uptick since November, when the TTP ended a cease-fire with the government that had lasted for months.

The Pakistani Taliban regularly carry out shootings or bombings, especially in rugged and remote northwestern Pakistan, a former TTP stronghold.

The violence has raised fears among residents of a possible military operation in the former tribal regions of North and South Waziristan, now two districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Hours after Monday’s mosque bombing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the independent Geo news channel that Afghan Taliban rulers must stand by their commitment to the international community to not allow anyone to use their soil for attacks against another country.

“They should honor their promises,” he said.


Pakistan apprises UAE of ongoing privatization process, investment opportunities

Updated 56 min 7 sec ago
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Pakistan apprises UAE of ongoing privatization process, investment opportunities

  • Pakistan has earmarked 10 firms for privatization or turnaround efforts as it strives to deliver reforms under IMF bailout
  • Pakistan has also been discussing outsourcing operations of several of its state-owned assets to outside companies

ISLAMABAD: Hamad Obaid Ibrahim Salem Al-Zaabi, UAE’s ambassador to Islamabad, called on Pakistani Privatization Minister Fawad Hasan Fawad on Monday and discussed the ongoing privatization of state entities and opportunities for future investment, state-run news agency APP said.

Pakistan’s caretaker government said in September it would improve governance at state-owned companies and earmarked 10 for privatization or turnaround efforts, as it strives to deliver reforms under its International Monetary Fund bailout.

Under the $3 billion bailout package from the IMF, which was critical in averting a sovereign debt default, state-owned entities (SOEs), whose losses are burning a hole in government finances, will need stronger governance.

As of 2020, the accumulated losses for SOEs amounted to 500 billion rupees ($1.74 billion), according to data from the finance ministry released in September.

“Fawad Hasan Fawad apprised the Ambassador of the ongoing privatization process in Pakistan and the opportunities of investment that may arise in the near future which can provide a very good return on investment,” APP said after the meeting between the minister and the envoy. 

“Issues of mutual interest and cooperation came under discussion at length.”

Pakistan has also been discussing outsourcing operations of several of its state-owned assets to outside companies, with local media reporting interest from firms in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and China.

In March, the government kicked off outsourcing of operations and land assets at three major airports to be run under a public private partnership, a move to generate foreign exchange reserves for its ailing economy.

The government has budgeted only about 15 billion Pakistani rupees ($52.42 million) in receipts from a stalled privatization process in its budget for the fiscal year 2024.


Mari Petroleum announces new gas discovery, joins ‘billion-dollar club’ at Pakistan stock market

Updated 11 December 2023
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Mari Petroleum announces new gas discovery, joins ‘billion-dollar club’ at Pakistan stock market

  • Pakistan’s leftover oil and gas reserves will be fully consumed in the next 15 years
  • Pakistan currently relies on imports to meet its growing demand, faces regular outages

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Mari Petroleum Company on Monday announced it had discovered around 17 million standard cubic feet per day (mmscfd) of gas from a well in the southern Sindh province, as the exploration giant joins the “billion-dollar club” of companies at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX).

According to data from the Pakistan Petroleum Information Services, Pakistan’s leftover oil and gas reserves will be fully consumed in the next 15 years. Currently, the South Asian nation of 240 million people relies on imports to meet its growing demand and faces regular scheduled gas outages, also known as load shedding.

In a stock filing on Monday, Mari said drilling of a third horizontal well had been carried out in the Habib Rahi Limestone (HRL) Reservoir of the Mari Gas Field in Daharki in Sindh province. The well is part of the Mari Field Revitalization Project “aimed at better managing the delivery pressure, sustaining the gas production, and optimal reserves recovery, all leading to the arrest of the depletion in production.”

“The well was drilled to a total measured depth of 1,740 meters with a horizontal section length of around 750 meters,” the stock filing said.

“After completion, the well was tested at a rate of around 17 million standard cubic feet per day of gas at a flowing wellhead pressure of 470 pounds per square inch gauge (psig).”

The well will be put on regular production immediately after releasing the drilling rig, Mari said, adding that it was evaluating opportunities to drill additional horizontal wells.

In October this year, Mari announced a discovery of around 8 mmscfd gas from another well in Daharki, which is being supplied to the Sui Norther Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL). 

The company said the new supply of gas would contribute in reducing the energy demand-supply gap in the country this winter season, and help save foreign exchange through indigenous hydrocarbon production. 

The field supplies gas to various sectors, including power, fertilizer, industry, and domestic consumers.

With the latest discoveries of gas, Pakistan’s self-sufficiency in gas increased from 71.3 percent to 76.26 percent during the November 24-30 period. The average per day consumption of Pakistan remains 4,100 mmscfd while production has increased from 2,923 mmcfd to 31,27 mmcfd, according to the data released by Petroleum Club of Pakistan on Monday.

In a separate development, Mari has joined the “billion-dollar club” at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) by achieving market capitalization of $1 billion. 

There are now seven listed companies in Pakistan with a market value of over a billion dollars, namely the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited, Colgate, Nestle, Meezan, Pakistan Petroleum Limited, Pak Tobacco, and Mari Petroleum, according to Topline Securities research.

There were only two listed companies, OGDCL and Nestle, in Pakistan five months ago.

The market cap of the listed companies has increased amid a historical growth and bullish trend prevailing at the Pakistan Stock Exchange, with the benchmark KSE100 index closing at 66,012 points on Monday.

Shares prices of Mari increased by 4.9 percent to Rs2,168.82 on the back of gas discovery announcements on Monday.


Pakistan not here to compete but beat Australia, says team director Hafeez

Updated 11 December 2023
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Pakistan not here to compete but beat Australia, says team director Hafeez

  • Pakistan play their first Test match of the three-match series against Australia on Dec. 14 in Perth
  • Hafeez says Canberra pitch where Pakistan face PM XI was ‘slowest pitch’ a visiting side could play on 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan men’s cricket Team Director Mohammad Hafeez said on Monday the visitors had arrived in Australia not to compete but beat the home side, as the green shirts brace for a tough challenge against the World Test champions when their three-match Test series kicks off this week. 

Pakistan face Australia in the first Test match at Perth on Dec. 14. The visitors have traditionally found playing in Australia harder than other venues around the world, having lost their last 14 Tests in the country, spanning five whitewashes.

Australia’s pace battery, in the form of skipper Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Scott Boland and Mitchell Starc is one of the most feared in the world. Pakistani batters have fared poorly in the Test format, with its batters traditionally finding it difficult to bat on the bouncy Australia surfaces. 

“Everyone is excited to take the challenge, performing in Australia would be great for them,” Hafeez told reporters at the WACA ground. “As a Pakistan team, we are here to beat Australia, not to compete here.”

The former Pakistani cricketer said Shan Masood’s side had done well in the training session. 

“We have ticked most of the boxes in our training,” he said. “Everyone on the team is excited to showcase their ability and eager to win. Unfortunately, Abrar Ahmed is unfit but everyone else is fit and ready to take on Australia.”

Ahmed was ruled out of the Perth Test match last week due to a leg injury. Pakistani spinner Sajid Khan has been called up to be his replacement. 

Hafeez seemed annoyed by the tour arrangements for Pakistan’s four-day match against the PM XI side in Canberra last week, at one point implying it might have been tactical.

“That was the slowest pitch a visiting team could ever play on in Australia,” he said. “The disappointment was really high because we weren’t expecting these kinds of arrangements. Maybe it’s tactical but we’re ready for it. We’re not using it as an excuse, we’re absolutely ready for the challenges coming up.”

Squads:

Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jr., Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi

Australia squad: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (captain), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Scott Boland, Cameron Green, Lance Morris

Series schedule

First Test: Dec. 14-18, Perth

Second Test: Dec. 26-30, Melbourne

Third Test: Jan. 3-7, Sydney


What led to Kashmir decision by India’s top court?

Updated 11 December 2023
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What led to Kashmir decision by India’s top court?

  • Disputed Himalayan region is claimed in full but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan 
  • Dispute over Kashmir sparked first two of three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court upheld on Monday a 2019 decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to revoke special status for Kashmir and split the region into two federally administered territories.

The disputed Himalayan region is claimed in full, though ruled in part by both India and Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947, with the nuclear-armed neighbors having fought two of their three wars over it.

Here are some facts about Kashmir and the constitutional change.

WHAT HAPPENED AT PARTITION?
After partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir was expected to go to Pakistan, as other Muslim-majority regions did. Its Hindu ruler wanted to stay independent, but faced with an invasion by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan, he acceded to India in October 1947 in return for help against the invaders.

WHAT WAS THE CONSTITUTIONAL POSITION?
Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which provided autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, was drafted in 1947 by Sheikh Abdullah, then the state’s prime minister, and accepted by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Classified only as a temporary provision, it was included in the Indian constitution in October 1949.

HOW DID THE PICTURE CHANGE IN 1954?
A further provision added to the constitution in 1954 as part of Article 370, article 35A empowered state lawmakers to ensure special rights and privileges for permanent residents of the state.

But it was scrapped with the repeal of Article 370, allowing non-Kashmiris to buy property in the region and ending local control over state government jobs and admission to colleges.

WHEN DID THE NEIGHBOURS GO TO WAR OVER THE REGION?
The dispute over the former princely state sparked the first two of three wars between India and Pakistan after independence in 1947. They fought a second in 1965, and a third, largely over what become Bangladesh, in 1971.

HOW IS THE REGION DIVIDED UP?
For decades, the armies of India and Pakistan have faced off over the the Line of Control (LoC), a UN-monitored cease-fire line agreed in 1972, that divides the areas each administers.

The foes fought a 1999 battle along the LoC that some analysts described as an undeclared war. Their forces exchanged regular gunfire over the LoC until a truce in late 2003, which has largely held since.

WHY WAS THERE AN INSURGENCY?
Resentment by many Muslims in Indian Kashmir over what they saw as heavy-handed rule by New Delhi sparked an insurgency by separatists in 1989, with some backing Pakistan, while others sought independence for Kashmir.

India responded by pouring in troops, and accused Pakistan of backing the separatists, in particular by arming and training fighters in its part of Kashmir and sending them into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Kashmiri people.

HOW HAS THE PICTURE IN INDIAN KASHMIR CHANGED SINCE 2019?
Since 2019, India has announced more investments for the region in areas such as industries, health care, education and tourism. It recently listed Kashmir’s new-found lithium reserves for private mining.

Tourism has grown since 2019 and separatist violence has fallen, the government says, with a G20 meet on tourism held in Srinagar this year during India’s presidency of the bloc.

WHAT AREAS DOES PAKISTAN HOLD?
These consist of the smaller Azad, or “Free,” Kashmir and the Northern Areas that formed part of the state before independence. Pakistan backs a UN-mandated referendum to settle the dispute over the region, expecting that the majority of Kashmiris would opt to join Pakistan.

WHAT IS THE REGION’S GEOGRAPHIC APPEAL?
The Himalayan region has two capitals, Jammu in winter, and Srinagar in summer.

Parts of Kashmir are strikingly beautiful, with forest-clad mountains, rivers running through lush valleys and lakes ringed by willow trees.

Indian Kashmir sprawls over 42,241 sq km (16,300 sq miles). Before the region was split, its size of 222,236 sq km (86,000 sq miles) was slightly bigger than the US state of Utah and almost as big as Britain.

The western Himalayan region is bounded by Pakistan to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, China to the northeast, and India to the south.

HOW LARGE IS THE POPULATION?
There are more than 12 million people in Indian Kashmir and Ladakh and more than four million in Azad Kashmir. About 70 percent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in Indian Kashmir.

WHAT ARE KEY FEATURES OF THE ECONOMY?
It is about 80 percent based on agriculture, with crops such as rice, maize, apples and saffron. The area is also known for handicrafts such as carpets, woodcarving, woollens and silk.


Designer, ex-PM Khan supporter Khadijah Shah remanded in Quetta police custody in murder case 

Updated 11 December 2023
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Designer, ex-PM Khan supporter Khadijah Shah remanded in Quetta police custody in murder case 

  • Khadija Shah was among thousands of Khan supporters and key aides arrested after violent protests on May 9
  • The designer is accused in four cases connected to the events of May 9, which are all being heard in Lahore

ISLAMABAD: A prominent Pakistani-American fashion designer who was arrested in cases related to violent protests over the brief May 9 arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan was remanded in the custody of police in the southwestern city of Quetta on Monday, dashing the hopes of her lawyers and family that she would be released after six months behind bars. 

Khadijah Shah, the founder of the luxury fashion brand Elan, was among thousands of people, including grassroots supporters and key Khan aides, who were rounded up after Khan’s arrest in a land graft case on May 9 unleashed nationwide protests in which his followers attacked and damaged government and military properties, including Lahore’s Jinnah House, the residence of a top army commander.

The designer, a vocal Khan supporter, is accused in four cases connected to the events of May 9, which were all being heard in Lahore, where Shah is imprisoned at the Kot Lakhpat Jail. She has been granted bail in all cases but had thus far been unable to secure release. Many other Khan supporters also complain that despite being granted bail, they keep being implicated in new cases. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has repeatedly accused the state, particularly the army, of cracking down on its supporters and members after May 9. The army and government deny this.

“Today #KhadijahShah case was fixed for announcement of judgment by LHC [Lahore High Court],” Shah’s lawyer Sameer Khosa said on X on Monday morning. “The MPO [maintenance of public ] order has apparently been withdrawn. A team from Quetta is here to take #Khadijah.”

Pakistani media widely reported later in the day that an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore had granted Quetta police two-day transitory remand of Shah in a case in which she is accused of murder and attempted murder in connection to the May 9 riots.

Her mother in law Mehvash Amin, a journalist and poet, tweeted that Shah had “committed no crime.”

 

 

Shah’s mother Aneela Shah appealed to the Supreme Court to take notice of her daughter’s case.

 

 

Shah’s husband Jarrar Shah said his wife was being taken to Quetta in “another manufactured fake case.”

 

 

On Nov. 15, an anti-terrorism court had granted Shah bail in the fourth and last case involving the May 9 protests. However, she was re-arrested on Nov. 17 under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) ordinance for 30 days.

Shah had subsequently challenged the detention in the Lahore High Court as “unlawful and unconstitutional,” and on Monday, the government in Punjab province submitted a notification to the LHC saying it had withdrawn Shah’s detention orders “with immediate effect”.

However, before Shah could be released, Quetta police filed a request in the ATC seeking her transit remand, which was granted for two days. The court also directed Quetta police to present Shah in court on Dec. 13.

Shah was arrested on May 25 after being on the run for almost two weeks following the May 9 violence. She denies any wrongdoing and says she protested peacefully.

Shah is the daughter of Dr. Salman Shah, a member of the finance team of former military ruler General Parvez Musharraf. Her father had also served as an adviser in the Punjab government during Khan’s tenure as prime minister. She is the granddaughter of a former Pakistani army chief.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has faced a widening crackdown since May 9, with thousands of his followers arrested and dozens of members of his party, including some of his closest aides, deserting him.

Khan, who is serving a three-year jail sentence in a separate graft case, says a slew of legal cases against him since he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in 2022 are fabricated and politically motivated and that his associates are being forced out of the PTI under duress by the military in a maneuver to dismantle his party before elections scheduled early next year. The army denies this.