Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts

The undated still image taken from a video shows a Zainabiyoun Brigade fighter holding a banner that reads Zainabiyoun. [Photo courtesy: Screengrab taken from a video posted by ZainabiyonMediaTeam/Facebook]
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Updated 12 April 2024

Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts

  • The Zainebiyoun Brigade comprises Pakistanis allegedly trained by Iran for fighting in Syria alongside Bashar Assad’s forces
  • Islamabad’s move comes days before Iranian’s president’s expected visit, aimed at repairing ties after tit-for-tat strikes in Jan.

KARACHI: Pakistan designated the Zainebiyoun Brigade, an Iran-backed militant group comprising Pakistani nationals that has been active in Syria, as a “terrorist” organization after it became a potential threat to the country’s security, experts said on Friday.

The Pakistani government had reasons to believe that Zainebiyoun Brigade was engaged in certain activities “prejudicial to the peace and security of the country,” read a notification, issued by the country’s interior minister on March 29, which emerged on Thursday. Subsequently, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) updated its official list of proscribed organizations, placing the Iran-backed group at 79th spot.

The development came a day after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Israel “must be punished and will be punished,” following an April 1 attack that destroyed Iran’s consulate building in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, including two generals. Some analysts believe Tehran might be planning an attack on Israeli interests in the world and could move the Zainebiyoun Brigade for this purpose.

Since the US Treasury added the Zainebiyoun Brigade to its financial blacklist in Jan. 2019, Pakistani authorities have arrested several militants affiliated with the group, notably in the country’s commercial hub of Karachi, a significant recruitment hub for the militant outfit, along with three other regions – Parachinar, Quetta and Gilgit Baltistan.

Security experts say Islamabad moved to outlaw the Zainebiyoun Brigade due to the threat it posed to Pakistan’s security in the current scenario.

“Its [Zainebiyoun’s] activities may trigger major sectarian conflict as it used to be in Pakistan sometimes ago as retaliation by Sunni extremist groups may further complicate the environment,” Abdullah Khan, an Islamabad-based security expert, told Arab News.

Previously, Zainebiyoun members fighting in Syria and Iraq were considered an “indirect threat,” but now the group’s members have reportedly returned to Pakistan and replaced banned sectarian outfit Sipa-e-Muhammad “as the main militant group targeting opponents,” according to Khan. The Zainebiyoun Brigade has now become “a very serious threat to Pakistan’s sectarian harmony.”

A Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to designate Zainebiyoun Brigade as a proscribed entity was made after Iran’s attacks inside Pakistan.

“The decision, implemented on March 29, was taken in a high-level meeting following Iran’s attack inside Pakistan,” the official told Arab News. “Increasing attacks in Balochistan by militants based in Iran further pushed for the implementation of this decision.”

In January, Iran targeted two suspected bases of the Jaish-ul-Adl militant group in Pakistan with missiles, prompting a rapid military riposte from Islamabad targeting what it said were separatist militants in Iran.

The tit-for-tat strikes were the highest-profile cross-border intrusions by the two countries in recent years and raised alarm about a wider conflict.

“Iran-Pakistan relations have been strained since the Iranians fired missiles in Pakistan earlier this year, which has triggered questions about Iranian relationship with various armed groups active in Pakistan, including the Zainebiyoun,” Dr. Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace, told Arab News.

“Even if not a decisive factor in Pakistani calculus to designate Zainebiyoun, it is difficult to separate the decision from the state of Iran-Pakistan bilateral ties.”

Pakistan’s designation of the Zainebiyoun Brigade as a militant outfit also comes days before an expected visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the third week of April and is likely to put pressure on Tehran in the talks later this month.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based independent scholar on militancy, politics and security, concurred the move was also linked to “growing tensions” between the two countries.

“Recently, amid growing tensions between Pakistan and Iran, this move can be interpreted as Pakistan’s attempt to thwart potential sectarian attacks aimed at destabilizing the country,” he said.

“Iran has accused Pakistan of harboring sanctuaries for Jaish-ul-Adl [militant group] and has threatened repercussions.”

Sayed said the group had emerged as a “dangerous” organization as significant number of youths previously associated with other outfits had joined its ranks.

“Its militants have also been implicated in terrorist attacks against rival sects within Pakistan,” he added.

In January this year, the counter-terrorism department (CTD) in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province said they had apprehended Syed Muhammad Mehdi, a suspected militant associated with the Zainebiyoun Brigade who had been involved in an assassination attempt on Mufti Taqi Usmani, a top Pakistani cleric, in Karachi in 2019. The attack had killed two of Mufti Usmani’s guards.

In July 2022, then Pakistan interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the Senate that Zainebiyoun Brigade members were among the militants “found actively involved in terrorist activities” in the country in 2019-2021.

In recent years, Pakistani authorities have announced the arrest of a number of suspects who they said were affiliated with the Zainebiyoun Brigade and were trained in Iran.

In Nov 2020, an Associated Press report said a number of Pakistanis were among 19 pro-Iran militia fighters killed in eastern Syria.

In March 2020, a senior official told Arab News that up to 50 Pakistani fighters were killed by the Turkish army and Syrian forces in a major rebel stronghold in the northwest of Syria.

Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

Updated 3 sec ago

Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

  • A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an
  • Lynchings are common in Islamic republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty

PESHAWAR: Pakistani authorities have begun an investigation to identify and arrest members of a mob that killed a local tourist accused of blasphemy, after they ransacked a police station holding him in protective custody, officials said on Friday.
A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an. They set the police station in the country’s northwest ablaze and injured eight policemen, Malankand division’s regional police chief Mohammad Ali Gandapur told Reuters.
“After initially rescuing the man from a crowd, the police took him to the station in Madyan, but announcements from mosque loud speakers asked locals to come out,” Gandapur said, after which the mob stormed the station.
Lynchings are common in Pakistan, an Islamic republic where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty.
Legal processes are frequently preceded by vigilante action based on rumors or complaints. 
Graphic videos of the latest incident, verified to Reuters by the police, showed a frenzied mob dragging a naked and bloodied body through the streets, and then setting it on fire. The footage went viral on social media and sparked outcry among Pakistani users.
Gandapur said the situation was under control and a case registered against the organizers of the mob. He added the man had been visiting the Swat Valley, a popular tourist destination, for the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha.
Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an and later died of his injuries in eastern Pakistan.
In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked global outcry.

Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

Updated 10 min 44 sec ago

Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

  • Lahore consistently ranks among world’ most polluted cities every winter when heavy fog envelopes the city
  • Lahore High Court orders police to take action against people who burn crop residue and cause pollution

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) this week directed traffic police officials to impound vehicles emitting smoke and take stern action against people found burning crop residue in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, state-run media reported, in an attempt to curb pollution in the city. 

Lahore consistently ranks among the world’s most polluted cities every year during the winter season. Last year, toxic smog sickened tens of thousands of people during the winter season, with the thick smog causing flight cancelations and forcing authorities to close schools. The situation got so worse that in a first, Pakistani authorities deployed artificial rain in December 2023 to battle smog.

Lahore, capital of the Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, is in an airshed, an area where pollutants from industry, transportation and other human activities get trapped because of local weather and topography so they cannot disperse easily. The Punjab government has also attributed pollution and smog to crop residue burnt frequently in neighboring India. 

“The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday once again ordered traffic police authorities to take strict action against smoky vehicles and impound them,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said. 

Justice Shahid Karim passed the orders while hearing several identical petitions filed by citizens Haroon Farooq and others against the government’s ineffective measures to control smog. During the proceedings, the court observed that most incidents of crop residue burning took place in the vicinity of the motorway, which connects various cities of the country. 

“Motorway police should take action on the incidents of crop residue burning,” the judge said. “The inspector-general of National Highways and Motorways should ensure the implementation of the court orders.”

Subsequently, the court adjourned further proceedings until the next Friday, June 28.

Five Pakistani soldiers killed in IED blast in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 21 June 2024

Five Pakistani soldiers killed in IED blast in northwestern Pakistan

  • IED explosion targeted security forces vehicle in northwestern Kurram district, says army 
  • President Asif Ali Zardari condemns blast, resolves to uproot “terrorism” from Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Five Pakistani soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, the army’s media wing said, as Islamabad grapples with rising militancy in the country’s western provinces bordering Afghanistan.
The IED blast targeted the vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.
The army said that a sanitization operation was being carried out in the area to eliminate any “terrorists” there, vowing to bring the perpetrators of the act to book.
“Security forces of Pakistan are determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism and such sacrifices of our brave soldiers further strengthen our resolve,” the ISPR said.
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the blast, state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. The president appreciated the martyrs’ sense of duty and patriotism, and the role of security forces in eradicating militancy from the country.
“He expressed the resolve to uproot the terrorism from the country’s soil, saying that the operations of the law enforcement agencies would continue till complete elimination of the menace,” APP reported.
Islamabad blames the uptick in attacks on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Kabul has previously said rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.
The TTP has been waging a war against the state to try to overthrow the government for nearly two decades. It wants to run Pakistan as an Islamic state governed by its own harsh interpretation of Islamic laws.

Pakistani government’s coalition allies distance themselves from ‘tax-heavy’ budget in parliamentary debate

Updated 21 June 2024

Pakistani government’s coalition allies distance themselves from ‘tax-heavy’ budget in parliamentary debate

  • Dr. Farooq Sattar, a lawmaker of government ally MQM-P, demands a more “people-friendly” budget
  • PPP lawmakers confirm no breakthrough reached with ruling party PML-N on budget differences

ISLAMABAD: The government’s key coalition allies criticized its tax-heavy federal budget during a parliamentary session on Friday, urging authorities to adopt “people-friendly” policies as Islamabad’s hopes the document will prove instrumental in securing another International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package.
Pakistan’s parliament kicked off the debate into the federal budget on Thursday, with opposition party Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) labelling the government’s move to present the budget as “economic terrorism” against the people. Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) in the budget, which was presented on June 12 by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb.
When the budget debate resumed in the National Assembly on Friday, the government’s key coalition allies distanced themselves from the taxes imposed in the finance bill, calling on authorities to levy them on landlords and the affluent class rather than the salaried group.
“If sanity fails to prevail and a public-friendly budget is not prepared, then this traditional budget is going to be the biggest threat to the country’s security,” Dr. Farooq Sattar, a senior lawmaker of the government’s coalition partner, Muttahida Quami Movement-Pakistan, (MQM-P) said during the parliamentary session.
He said the budget signaled that the status quo continued to wield power in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Shazia Marri confirmed that no breakthrough had been reached in talks held between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and the PPP’s senior leadership on their differences regarding the budget.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari led a high-level delegation of his party to meet Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the government’s senior leadership on Thursday. The two sides attempted to iron out their differences over the federal budget.
The PPP has accused the government of ignoring its recommendations in the budget. While not a member of the federal cabinet, the PPP voted for Sharif in the prime minister’s election and forms the government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. The PML-N-led government requires the PPP’s votes for the budget to pass.
After the meeting between the two sides ended on Thursday, a handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said both sides had agreed to form committees to work out their differences over the budget.
Speaking during the National Assembly session on Friday, Marri pointed out that the government’s ministers had not attended the session.
“Relevant ministers must be present in the house during budget session,” Marri said, adding that her party was reluctant to participate in such sessions till it resolved its differences with the government on the budget.
Another PPP leader Sharmila Faruqi said both parties’ relevant committees would hold meetings to reach a consensus on the budget before voting on the finance bill takes place next week.
“Not much of a breakthrough, subsequent meetings to follow,” Faruqi told Arab News about the meeting between the two sides. “PML-N must honor its commitments to PPP.”
Meanwhile, SIC lawmaker Sajid Khan criticized the government for imposing heavy taxes in the budget on medicines and food items.
“The government should reopen border with Afghanistan from Angoor Ada [town in northwestern Pakistan] to resume trade and business activities,” he recommended.
Khan said the government should review tax measures and allocate a special budget for the development of the erstwhile tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
“The government should allocate the promised 3 percent of the National Finance Award for the development of the tribal regions,” he said.

ADB, Pakistan sign $250 million loan agreement for investment in infrastructure, services

Updated 21 June 2024

ADB, Pakistan sign $250 million loan agreement for investment in infrastructure, services

  • Loan to help drive investments in infrastructure, services through public-private partnerships
  • ADB has committed over $52 billion in public and private sector loans and grants since 1966

KARACHI: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Pakistan on Friday signed an agreement for a $250 million loan that would help drive sustainable investments in the country’s infrastructure and services sectors, the Pakistan chapter of the bank confirmed.
The ADB announced on June 5 that it had approved a $250 million policy-based loan to help drive investments in Pakistan’s infrastructure and services sector through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
“ADB Country Director for Pakistan Yong Ye and Secretary Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan Kazim Niaz today signed the agreement for $250 million policy-based loan,” ADB Pakistan wrote on social media platform X.
In its earlier press statement on June 5, ADB said its PPP program supports the implementation of government policies to create a fiscally affordable environment for public-private partnerships, apart from promoting economic growth. 
“The reforms will facilitate efficient infrastructure planning and promote sustainable development practices in infrastructure projects, such as climate risk screening and gender considerations in project feasibility assessments and PPP contracts,” ADB Director-General for Central and West Asia Yevgeniy Zhukov had said.
The regional development bank has committed over $52 billion to Pakistan, one of its founding members, since 1966 in public and private sector loans, grants, and other forms of financing to promote inclusive economic growth in the country.
In December 2023, the ADB approved three projects totaling $658.8 million to improve Pakistan’s domestic resource mobilization, rehabilitate schools damaged by the devastating August 2022 floods, and enhance agricultural productivity to improve food security.