Security forces shoot dead two militants in northwestern Pakistan— military 

Pakistani soldiers cordon off a street leading to Christian colony following an attack by suicide bombers on the outskirts of Peshawar on September 2, 2016. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 May 2023
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Security forces shoot dead two militants in northwestern Pakistan— military 

  • Pakistan’s security forces conduct intelligence-based operation in District Bannu
  • Military’s media wing says militants were involved in attacks on security forces, civilians

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces gunned down two militants in the restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Wednesday, the military’s media wing said. 

Pakistan has seen a rise in attacks on security forces and civilian targets since a fragile truce between the state and the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) broke down in November last year. 

Over 80 people were killed in January when a suicide blast struck a mosque located in a police compound in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital. The TTP, who conducted some of the most brutal attacks against Pakistan’s security forces for over a decade now, wants to impose its own strict version of Islamic law across the country.

The latest exchange of fire took place during an intelligence-based operation in District Bannu’s Jani Khel area, the military’s media wing said. 

“During the conduct of the operation, intense fire exchange took place between own troops and terrorists,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement. “Resultantly, 2 x terrorists were sent to hell.

The uptick in militant attacks across Pakistan has also strained Islamabad’s relations with Kabul. Pakistan has repeatedly called on Afghanistan to rein in militants it says are operating from Afghan soil. 

The Taliban government in Afghanistan has assured Pakistan it would take action against militants on its soil and has called on Islamabad to refrain from threatening cross-border action. 


In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

Updated 11 sec ago
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In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

  • Shehrbano Naqvi saved a woman surrounded in Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Army chief General Syed Asim Munir meets Naqvi, lauds her for “selfless devotion to duty and professionalism” in diffusing a volatile situation 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday lauded a policewoman for risking her life to save a citizen from a blasphemy mob last week, stressing the importance of rule of law in the country and advising citizens against taking the law into their hands. 
Senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, was praised by politicians, senior police officials and the general public after a video of her emerged on social media this week in which she can be seen rescuing a woman from a charged crowd.
The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an. Naqvi later clarified that the dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) or the army’s media wing, Naqvi called on Munir at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday. 
“COAS [chief of army staff] lauded ASP Shehrbano for her selfless devotion to duty and professionalism in diffusing a volatile situation,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. He said Pakistani women are an inalienable part of the country’s society, noting that their respect is enshrined in the country’s religion and social ethos. 
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
In 2011, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Munir highlighted the importance of social harmony and the need for consensus on curbing intolerance, the ISPR said. 
“He emphasized upon the rule of law and advised against taking the law in one’s hands when legal avenues are available for addressing concerns and grievances,” the army’s media wing said. 
“COAS appreciated the sacrifices rendered by the law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of Pakistan.”


‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

Updated 7 min 9 sec ago
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‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

  • The upcoming coalition government’s electoral mandate may not be sufficiently strong to pursue difficult reforms
  • The credit rating agency warns that the rating would be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations

KARACHI: Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday warned of political risks following “highly controversial” general elections in Pakistan that could lead to insufficient mandate for the next government to pursue difficult economic reforms needed at this stage.
The international agency maintained Pakistan’s ratings, including its Caa3 long-term issuer rating, with a stable outlook unchanged after completing a periodic review of the country’s ratings.
“Pakistan’s credit profile reflects the government’s very high liquidity and external vulnerability risks as the very low levels of foreign exchange reserves remain well below what is required to meet its very high external financing needs over the near to medium term,” Moody’s said in the review report.
The agency did not announce a credit rating action but highlighted the “country’s very weak fiscal strength and elevated political risks” that may also constrain the credit profile.
The South Asian nation is in the process of forming a government after key political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), agreed on a power-sharing formula last week.
The general elections were marred by allegations of rigging and manipulation.
“Political risks are high, following a highly controversial general elections held on 8 February 2024,” the agency said.
Although a coalition government looks set to be formed, the report said there was high uncertainty around the newly elected government’s willingness and ability to quickly negotiate a new International Monetary Fund program soon after the current $3 billion short-term loan expires next month.
Moody’s said Pakistan’s ability to secure loans from other bilateral and multilateral partners would be severely constrained until the new IMF financing was reached.
Its assessment comes only a year after it downgraded the country’s rating to Caa3 from Caa1, following deadlock in talks with the IMF amid depletion of foreign exchange reserves.
The large amount of external financing required over the medium term along with Pakistan’s very low reserves position imply material default risks if there were funding delays from the IMF and other partners.
“Social pressures and weaknesses in governance may also raise challenges in meeting criteria for future IMF funding,” the agency said.
The agency warned that the rating would likely be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations to private-sector creditors and the expected losses to creditors as a result of any restructuring were larger than consistent with a Caa3 rating.


Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

Updated 48 min 32 sec ago
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Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

  • Cash-strapped Pakistan secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer
  • A new Pakistani government may need to seek more funds from the global lender

ISLAMABAD: The party of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to factor in the country’s political stability in any further bailout talks, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Khan’s party has sent a letter to the IMF detailing its position, two senior sources in Khan’s party with knowledge of the letter said.
Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to recover from an economic crisis and secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer. Analysts say that a new government — which Khan’s opponents are expected to form after this month’s national election — may need to seek more funds from the global lender.


After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

Updated 28 February 2024
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After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

  • X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Feb. 8 elections
  • X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about state of democratic freedoms

ISLAMABAD: After being inaccessible for millions of Pakistanis for 11 consecutive days, many users reported they were able to use the social media platform X without enabling a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on Wednesday morning. 

X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Pakistan’s Feb. 8 general election. The admission came as former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties staged protests countrywide, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rigged elections, which it denies. Mobile phone services were also shut down on polling day over security threats. 

X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country, with the United States and several international organizations urging Pakistan to provide unhindered Internet access and leading digital rights activists calling the blockade a “blatant violation” of civil liberties. 

On Wednesday afternoon, multiple Arab News staffers were able to access X without a VPN, which can mask the identity and location of users to help access websites and services that may be blocked in a certain region. 

VPNs have become increasingly popular in the days since access to X was cut off for much of the country but software application Surfshark reported this week the Pakistan government was working to restrict VPN as well, which the company’s engineers were working to bypass. 

“Twitter (X) is working without VPN in #Pakistan,” journalist Shiraz Hassan said on X. 

A day earlier on Tuesday, Internet observatory group Netblocks said metrics showed X had remained restricted in Pakistan into a tenth day, “as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms.” 

Before the latest blockade, Pakistan experienced multiple Internet disruptions in recent weeks that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible. Recent occurrences were on Jan. 20, Jan. 7 and Dec. 17, when Khan’s PTI party was holding virtual events. The government had blamed those disruptions on “technical glitches.” 

Such shutdowns have previously had a devastating impact on Pakistan’s economy. The day after Khan’s arrest in May last year, Reuters reported that point-of-sale transactions routed through Pakistan’s main digital payment systems fell by around 50 percent according to the region’s two largest payments system operators, 1LINK and Habib Bank Limited.

According to the Internet Society’s monitor Pulse, it is becoming an increasingly common tactic for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level to either control civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, sway the results of general elections or to gain strategic advantages in territories with ongoing wars.
 


PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

Updated 28 February 2024
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PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

  • Pakistan’s army, intelligence agencies deny carrying out enforced disappearances
  • Balochistan province is the site of a decades long low-level separatist insurgency 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said on Wednesday the Pakistani state was not responsible for enforced disappearances, a recurring problem that is often blamed on security agencies in the country’s impoverished southwestern Balochistan province.

The prime minister issued the statement during an appearance before the Islamabad High Court in connection with a case regarding Baloch missing students.

Balochistan has long been plagued by enforced disappearances, with families saying men are picked up by security forces, disappear often for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies deny they carry out enforced disappearances.

Separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups operating Balochistan, have been fighting a decades long insurgency for independence for mountainous and mineral-rich Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by territory but the smallest in terms of population. Rights activists, political leaders and families say the insurgency has been used as a pretext to pick up innocent civilians, which the state denies. 

“It is not correct to consider the entire state guilty [for enforced disappearances in Balochistan],” Kakar was widely quoted by local media as telling the court, castigating state critics for not holding separatists and militants responsible when they killed innocent civilians and security officials. 

Balochistan borders Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west and has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. It has Pakistan’s largest natural gas field and is believed to hold many more undiscovered reserves. It is also rich in precious metals including gold, the production of which has grown over recent years.

Balochistan is a key location in China’s huge multi-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Though separatists mostly target Pakistani security forces and state installations in Balochistan, they have also attacked Chinese workers and projects. 

In a rare statement on the issue in 2019, the military sympathized with families of missing Balochs but said some may have joined militant groups and “not every person missing is attributable to the state.”

Pakistan has repeatedly blamed India for fanning militancy in Balochistan, a charge New Delhi denies.