Militants have Pakistan's police in their crosshairs 

A police officer looks outside the window of a gate at Achini's outpost, in the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, February 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)
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Updated 27 February 2023

Militants have Pakistan's police in their crosshairs 

  • Killings of policemen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa rose to 119 last year, from 54 in 2021 and 21 in 2020
  • Some 102 have been slain already this year, most in a mosque bombing but some in other attacks

BARA, Pakistan: Atop a police outpost in northwest Pakistan, Faizanullah Khan stands behind a stack of sandbags and peers through the sight of an anti-aircraft gun, scanning the terrain along the unofficial boundary with the country's restive former tribal areas. 

On this cold and rainy February morning, he was looking not for aircraft but for fighters behind attacks against his force, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial police. 

It was daytime, so he could relax a bit, said Khan, an assistant sub-inspector, as he sat down on a traditional woven bed. But night was a different story, he said, pointing to pock marks left by bullets fired at the outpost, named Manzoor Shaheed, or Manzoor the Martyr, after a colleague felled by insurgents years ago. 

The outpost is one of dozens that provide defence against militants waging a fresh assault on Pakistan's police from hideouts in the border region adjoining Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The area, part of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, is a hotbed for fighters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of militant groups.

The threat the insurgency poses to nuclear-armed Pakistan was illustrated last month when the bombing of a mosque in Peshawar killed more than 80 police personnel. A faction of the TTP, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility. 

Visiting northwest Pakistan this month, Reuters gained access to police outposts and spoke to more than a dozen people, including senior police officials, many of whom described how the force is suffering increasing losses as it bears the brunt of insurgent attacks while contending with resourcing and logistical constraints. 

Pakistani officials acknowledge these challenges but say they are trying to improve the force's capability amid adverse economic circumstances. 

A police officer rappels off a building during a practice session at the Elite Police Training Centre in Nowshera, Pakistan, February 10, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

'Stopped their way' 

Police here have fought militants for years -- more than 2,100 personnel have been killed and 7,000 injured since 2001 -- but never have they been the focus of militants' operations as they are today. 

"We've stopped their way to Peshawar," assistant sub-inspector Jameel Shah of Sarband station, which controls the Manzoor Shaheed outpost, said of the militants. 

Sarband and its eight outposts have suffered four major attacks in recent months and faced sniper fire with unprecedented frequency, according to police based there. 

Killings of police in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa rose to 119 last year, from 54 in 2021 and 21 in 2020. Some 102 have been slain already this year, most in the mosque bombing but some in other attacks. Elsewhere, militants stormed a police office in Karachi on Feb. 17, killing four before security forces retook the premises and killed three assailants. 

The TTP, known as the Pakistani Taliban, pledges allegiance to the Afghan Taliban but is not directly a part of the group that rules in Kabul. Its stated aim is to impose Islamic religious law in Pakistan. 

A TTP spokesman, Muhammad Khurasani, told Reuters its main target was Pakistan's military, but the police were standing in the way. 

"The police have been told many times not to obstruct our way, and instead of paying heed to this the police have started martyring our comrades," he said. "This is why we are targeting them." 

The military has conducted operations alongside the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police and faced TTP attacks, with one soldier confirmed dead in the province this year, according to data released by the military's public relations wing, which did not address questions from Reuters about military casualties. 

In December, the TTP released a video purportedly recorded by one of its fighters from mountains around the capital, Islamabad, showing Pakistan's parliament building. "We are coming," said a note held by the unidentified fighter. 

The TTP wants to show that its fighters can strike outside their current areas of influence, said Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank. While their ability may be limited, he said, "propaganda is a big part of this war and the TTP are getting good at it". 

Police officers hold their weapons during a training session at the Elite Police Training Centre in Nowshera, Pakistan, February 10, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

'Sitting ducks' 

The police in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which neighbours Islamabad, say they are up for the fight, but point to a lack of resources. 

"The biggest problem is the number of personnel, which is a little low," said Shah, of Sarband station, which has 55 people -- including drivers and clerks -- for the station and eight affiliated outposts. "This is a target area, and we're absolutely face-to-face with (the militants)." 

Days before Reuters visited Sarband, a senior police official was ambushed and killed outside the station during a firefight with militants. The attack demonstrated the firepower of the insurgents, who, according to Shah, used thermal goggles to target the officer in darkness. 

It wasn't the first time. About a year ago, the TTP released a video of its snipers using thermal imaging to take out unsuspecting security personnel. 

Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters about the insurgency, told local TV this month that militants saw the police as "soft targets" because their public-facing role made it easier to penetrate their facilities. 

Zahid Hussain, a journalist and author of books on militancy, said the police were more vulnerable than the military, given their resources and training. 

"I mean, they're sitting ducks there," Hussain said. 

People pray for the victims who were killed in a suicide bombing in January, in a mosque that was partially damaged during the attack in the Police Lines area in Peshawar, Pakistan, February 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

'Lethal weapons' 

Moazzam Jah Ansari, who was chief of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's police when he spoke to Reuters this month but has since been replaced, said militant strategies had been evolving.

"They try and find more effective ways to conduct military operations, more lethal weapons," he said. 

Militants have procured U.S.-made M4 rifles and other sophisticated weapons from stocks left by Western forces that exited Afghanistan in 2021, police officials said. Some police guards told Reuters they had seen small reconnaissance drones flying over their outposts. 

Khurasani, the TTP spokesman, confirmed that the group was using drones for surveillance. 

Several police officials at Sarband station said the provincial government and military provided them and other outposts with thermal goggles in late January to aid the fight. But they encountered another problem. 

"About 22 hours of the day we have power outages... there's no electricity to charge our goggles," Shah told Reuters at Sarband. 

The station has one rooftop solar panel, which officers paid out of their own pockets to install, according to station chief Qayyum Khan. One policeman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of disciplinary action, said police use their vehicles or go to a petrol station equipped with a back-up generator to charge their goggles. 

Police said they had taken other protection measures, including erecting rudimentary walls to guard against sniper fire, and procuring bulletproof glass from a market that sells equipment left behind by U.S.-led forces. 

Imam Noor ul Ameen, 35, who is also a police employee, holds his palms as he leads a prayer for the victims who were killed in a suicide bombing in January, in a mosque that was partially damaged during the attack in the Police Lines area, in Peshawar, Pakistan, February 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

Economic conditions 

Reuters spoke to four other senior officials and more than a dozen lower-ranking officers, all of whom said the provincial force was neglected despite its key role. They spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of disciplinary action. 

Required resources were not forthcoming, and their pay and perks were inferior to that of counterparts elsewhere in Pakistan, let alone the military, these officials told Reuters. 

"Do the police need more resources? They absolutely do," said Taimur Jhagra, who was provincial finance minister until January, when a caretaker administration took over ahead of elections. 

Jhagra said his government helped the police as much as it could with pay raises and procuring equipment such as goggles, despite fiscal constraints. Pakistan's debt-ridden economy has been in a tailspin for over a year, and the country is trying to slash spending to avoid default. 

"Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa pays a greater price for that" because of its exposure to the militants, he said. 

Ansari, the former police chief, said resources had improved, but tended to come reactively when a threat emerged, rather than as sustained support. He, too, attributed this to economic circumstances, but added that things were not as bad as some suggested. 

'Seething anger' 

After Western forces left Afghanistan in August 2021, Pakistan sought a truce with the TTP, resulting in a months-long ceasefire and negotiations brokered by the Afghan Taliban. As part of the effort, many militants from Afghanistan were resettled in Pakistan. 

The TTP ended the ceasefire in November 2022, and regrouped militants restarted attacks in Pakistan soon after. 

Following the Peshawar bombing, police personnel held public protests where some voiced anger against their leadership, the provincial and national governments, and even the military, calling for more resources and clarity on the policy of fighting the militants. Ansari acknowledged a "deep sense of loss" and "seething anger" in the force in the wake of the attack. 

At the site of the blast, police personnel gathered on a recent day to remember their fallen comrades. The imam, a police employee who lost his brother in the attack, prayed for the success of the force. 

Behind the mosque, Daulat Khan, an assistant sub-inspector, and eight relatives live in cramped police quarters comprising a 25-square-metre space with only one room. Around him are crumbling, blast-damaged walls. 

"Everyone can see the sacrifices of the police, but nothing is done for us," he said, pointing to rows of century-old, British-colonial era quarters. "You see the conditions in front of you." 

Outside, open sewage canals lined the alleyways. 

A billboard with photos of police officers who died in the line of duty is seen in the Police Lines area, Peshawar, Pakistan, February 9, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

Different battle 

Pakistan's military effectively dismantled the TTP and killed most of its top leadership in a string of operations from 2014 onwards, driving most of the fighters into Afghanistan, where they regrouped. 

But the nature of the fight has changed in recent months, which partly shows why the police, not the military, are at the forefront. The militants were now spread in smaller groups across the country and among the civilian population, instead of operating from bases in former tribal areas, analysts said.  

The military has also been stretched by another insurgency in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where separatists are targeting state infrastructure and Chinese investments. 

The defence ministry did not respond to requests for comment about the armed forces' role in resisting militants in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. 

Miles from the flashpoints, meanwhile, police graduates receive six-month crash courses in anti-militant operations at the vast Elite Police Training Centre in Nowshera. 

The personnel, including women, learn how to conduct raids, rappel from buildings and use rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns, which they unleash on a model of a militant training camp. 

But beyond the training school's walls, there is no stationary militant camp, attacks come at night, and police are often on their own. 

Faizanullah Khan said that, on some nights at his outpost, militants call out to him or his fellow guards. "They say 'we see you; lay down your arms'," he said. 

The guards sometimes reply, he said, by firing their guns into the darkness.

Pakistan regulator asks TV stations to avoid promoting ‘hate mongers’ involved in anti-state activities

Updated 58 min 53 sec ago

Pakistan regulator asks TV stations to avoid promoting ‘hate mongers’ involved in anti-state activities

  • The directive comes as focus turns to ex-PM Imran Khan amid open hearings of a case relating to leaking of state secrets
  • Khan, who has been in jail since August 5, says the cases against are ‘politically motivated,’ aim to keep him out of politics

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has asked broadcasters not to promote “hate mongers” involved in anti-state activities, citing violent incidents in May that stemmed from the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan. 

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022, was briefly arrested in a graft case on May 9, which led to attacks on government and military installations in Pakistan by supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. 

The attacks led to a crackdown on supporters of Khan supporters and members of his party. Several top aides of the ex-premier and members of his party have since distanced themselves from the PTI, while many still remain behind bars. 

In its directives to TV stations on Monday, PEMRA said any speech that incites violence, promotes hatred, or poses threat to public order and security could be restricted, noting that it was “crucial to strike a balance between protecting freedom of speech and maintaining public order.” 

In this regard, attention of all the licensees is drawn to a tragic incident occurred on May 9, 2023 and its mastermind, wherein state and public properties were attacked, innocent lives were endangered and anti-state sentiments were prompted, attempting to weaken Federation of Pakistan and state institutions,” the regulator said. 

“This is unequivocally a very horrific trend and indeed needs to be condemned and those involved in promoting such activities must be boycotted on media for damaging peace and tranquility in the country. In the wake of aforementioned scenario, all satellite TV channel licensees are directed to remain vigilant and not to promote any hate monger, perpetrators and their facilitators inadvertently or advertently.” 

The PEMRA directive comes as Khan once again becomes center of public attentions, with public hearings of a case against him relating to the leaking of state secrets. The ex-premier initially faced an in-camera prison trial in the case, however, a Pakistani high court this month ruled that such hearings were illegal and ordered an open trial with media access. 

Khan, who has been in jail since August 5 after being convicted in a case involving the sale of state gifts, faces a slew of cases that he says are “politically motivated” and aimed at keeping him out of politics. 

Further in its directive, PEMRA asked all licensees to ensure compliance of the provisions of its code of conduct for programs and advertisements aired on electronic media. 

“Licensees must adhere to provisions of PEMRA laws and orders of the superior courts by refraining from providing their airtime to such individuals who propagate hate speech and provoke public sentiments against the Federation and State Institutions,” it added. 

Islamic Development Bank announces $100 million loan to make Pakistan polio-free

Updated 05 December 2023

Islamic Development Bank announces $100 million loan to make Pakistan polio-free

  • The South Asian country has already received $60 of this amount, the IsDB president says
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan are only two countries in world where polio continues to threaten lives

ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has announced a $100 million loan to support Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts, the Pakistani health minister and the Bank said, on the sidelines of the ongoing COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai. 

This loan builds on a previous support from the IsDB and includes a $35 million principal buydown from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to an IsDB statement.  

The new funding complements previous loans and will be used to secure and deliver millions of polio vaccines needed to protect all children across Pakistan against the debilitating yet preventable virus. 

"I am very pleased to announce that the IsDB approved US$100 million financing in the 4th Phase of Polio Eradication Program for Pakistan in April 2023, which brings the IsDB total financing for Polio eradication in Pakistan to US$ 587 million, making the Bank one of the largest providers of finance to the national polio eradication program in Pakistan," IsDB President Dr. Muhammad Al-Jasser was quoted as saying in the statement.  

"Under this latest phase, I am happy to note that US$60 million of this amount was disbursed in mid-November 2023. We and our partners remain committed and are working hard to win this battle against this disease. We really are at the last mile in this long journey as only 5 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in the country in 2023.”  

The IsDB president thanked the Pakistani government, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for their steadfast commitment to polio eradication. 

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of ten years. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death.  

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children.  

“We welcome the support of the IsDB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in contributing to the critical effort of ending polio in Pakistan,” Pakistan Health Minister Nadeem Jan said, addressing the ‘Reaching the Last Mile’ forum related to polio at COP28. 

“Interrupting poliovirus transmission remains a core focus for the Government of Pakistan, and thanks to the heroic efforts of community health workers, global partners and contributors like the IsDB and the foundation, we have pushed the virus to the brink of eradication.” 

An official of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said they saw this loan as an important step forward for the eradication of polio in Pakistan.  

“We are pleased to partner again with the IsDB and the Government of Pakistan to ensure funding opportunities to provide the needed resources to reach every child with polio vaccines,” said Chris Elias, president of the Global Development Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  

“With continued support to health workers and the efforts from partners like the IsDB, I am confident we will end polio in Pakistan.” 

The IsDB said this new loan would enable Pakistan's polio program to reach all children and communities with the life-saving vaccine.  

"It will also help meet the country’s commitment of US$155 million towards its national polio program supported by the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)," it added. 

Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

Updated 05 December 2023

Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

  • Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is serving an 86-year sentence at a US federal prison
  • Her lawyer says she has been abused 'countless times' by guards and prisoners at US detention facility

ISLAMABAD: Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who has been jailed in the United States (US) after being convicted of attacking US troops in Afghanistan, has been "raped" inside a US prison, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is currently serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Carswell, Texas after a New York court convicted her in 2010 of attempting to shoot and kill a group of US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan who wanted to interrogate her for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.  

Her sentencing by a US court has riled many in Pakistan, including former and current Pakistani governments that had campaigned for her release and paid for her legal defense.  

Siddiqui's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, on Tuesday made shocking disclosures about mistreatment of Siddiqui, a day after his meeting with the Pakistani scientist at FMC Carswell. 

"She has been raped in FMC Carswell, no question about it," Smith, a US-based human rights lawyer who is representing Siddiqui, said in an interview to a Pakistani broadcaster. 

"Well, I mean, at least two times is a formal thing by guards, but in terms of abuse by the guards and prisoners, countless times." 

As an American, Smith said, he was "ashamed of" what the US prison system had done to Siddiqui. 

"I have filed a report on her abuse and what they have been doing to her is pretty unspeakable in terms of the sexual mistreatment," he said. "She has told me in great detail about how she has been abused." 

Smith said Siddiqui's complaints were all "extreme" and "true," and that she had been meted out the "harshest" treatment by the US prison authorities. 

"There are 10,250 women in the [US] federal prison system," the lawyer said. "The woman who has been treated the harshest of all those 10,250 is Aafia Siddiqui." 

Siddiqui, who is reportedly ailing, earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced for assaulting US soldiers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier.  

Her punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.  

In the years since, Pakistani officials have publicly expressed interest in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from US custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters.  

The government of Nawaz Sharif, three-time former prime minister of Pakistan, as well as the outgoing Pakistani administration of his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, have made efforts for Siddiqui’s release during their tenure.  

In March this year, the younger Sharif instructed Pakistan’s foreign ministry to remain engaged with the US government and the country’s mission in Washington for the release of jailed Pakistani neuroscientist, following his meeting with Siddiqui's sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui. 

Smith said he had apprised the Pakistani government of Siddiqui's abuse and was certainly going to let Pakistani authorities know of the "gruesome details." 

He, however, said it was the duty of the Pakistani government to protect her from the abuse. 

"That's her government, it is their duty to protect her," he said. "I will do what I can, I am an American, I apologize for what has happened to her. But it is actually, ultimately the job of the government in Pakistan." 

AirBus A320 acquired for $13 million by PIA from Indonesia to fly to Pakistan today

Updated 05 December 2023

AirBus A320 acquired for $13 million by PIA from Indonesia to fly to Pakistan today

  • The purchase by the loss-making airline is part of $26 million two-plane deal
  • PIA has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears

KARACHI: An Airbus A320 acquired by Pakistan International Airline (PIA) for $13 million from Indonesia will land in Karachi on Tuesday night, a spokesperson for the airline said.

Loss-making PIA has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears. The government announced in August it would privatize the airline, a move that would be in line with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

PIA leased two Airbus A320 planes from leasing company AirAsia in 2012. The lease concluded in September 2021, after which PIA returned the aircraft to the leasing company. However, a dispute arose when AirAsia declined to accept the planes, contending they were not returned in satisfactory condition.

The row continued for nearly two years and the airline finally struck a deal with the leasing company to buy the two planes after a PIA delegation met with AirAsia officials in Jakarta in October.

“PIA has acquired these aircraft, which were earlier sent to Jakarta for return to the leasing company, AirAsia, upon the completion of a six-year lease,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told Arab News.

“The lessor agreed to PIA's proposal of buying out these aircraft at the price of $26 million.”

PIA made a payment of $13 million last week, the spokesman said, after which one aircraft was released and flying to Pakistan today, Tuesday. 

“One aircraft will land at Karachi airport today at 11pm, while the second one will be acquired after paying the remaining $13 million within the next couple of weeks,” Khan added.

The purchase comes at a time of deep crisis for the loss-making airline, which the government says it can no longer fund. PIA has also been in disputes with the Pakistan State Oil company (PSO) over payments.

The airline has long been in trouble. 

PIA flights to Europe and the UK have been suspended since 2020 after the European Union's Aviation Safety Agency revoked the national carrier's authorization to fly to the bloc following a scandal over pilot licences.

Pakistan to play ‘aggressive’ cricket on Australia Test tour — skipper

Updated 05 December 2023

Pakistan to play ‘aggressive’ cricket on Australia Test tour — skipper

  • Pakistan will play first Test against Australia in Perth on Dec. 14, followed by two others in Melbourne and Sydney
  • Ahead of the first Test match, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval in Canberra

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will try playing an ‘aggressive’ cricket in their three-match Test series against Australia, skipper Shan Masood said on Monday.

Pakistan will play the first Test against Australia in Perth on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

The third Test will be played in Sydney and begin on January 3. 

Masood, who was recently appointed Pakistan Test captain, said Test cricket had undergone a significant change over the years. 

“We will try playing with a positive mindset, an aggressive mindset,” he told reporters in Canberra. 

“Wherever an opportunity came to put the other side under pressure, we will try to put pressure as a bowling unit or a bowling unit.” 

Ahead of the Test series, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval. 

Masood believed time factor was quite important for his side the games against Australia. 

“As a batting unit, you will have to improve the run rate a bit,” he said, adding Pakistan pacers will also have to strive to bowl as many players out as they can. 


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