Pakistan initiates ‘Operation Azm-e-Istehkam’ in national security drive amid escalating militant violence

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of Central Apex Committee of National Action Plan in Islamabad on June 22, 2024. (APP)
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Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan initiates ‘Operation Azm-e-Istehkam’ in national security drive amid escalating militant violence

  • The counterterrorism drive was announced after PM Sharif warned ‘soft states’ failed to gain investor confidence
  • Shehbaz Sharif called it a ‘grave mistake’ only to expect the armed forces to deal with the issue of militant violence

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top national security forum on Saturday announced its plan to launch a comprehensive counterterrorism campaign, Operation Azm-e-Istehkam — or Resolve for Stability — after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif led a meeting of the civilian and military leadership to review the ongoing security situation in the country.
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since a proscribed armed network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), called off a fragile ceasefire with the government in November 2022. Much of the violence was witnessed in the country’s western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, which share a border with Afghanistan where the TTP leaders have reportedly found sanctuary.
While the militants have primarily targeted Pakistani civilians and security forces, they have also threatened the national economy by attacking Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure development projects under a multibillion-dollar regional connectivity framework, causing concern in both Beijing and Islamabad.
The Central Apex Committee of the National Action Plan, a high-level forum that includes the army chief, provincial chief ministers and heads of major civil and military law enforcement agencies, convened to discuss the situation before deciding to launch the campaign.
“The Prime Minister approved a reinvigorated and re-energized national counter-terrorism campaign through launching of Operation AZM-E-ISTEHKAM, with consensus of all stakeholders including the Provinces, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, symbolizing the national resolve to eradicate extremism and terrorism from the country,” said a statement released after the meeting.
“In the politico-diplomatic domain, efforts will be intensified to curtail the operational space for terrorists through regional cooperation,” it added. “The renewed and full blown kinetic efforts of the armed forces will be augmented by full support from all Law Enforcement Agencies, empowered by effective legislation to address legal voids that hinder effective prosecution of terrorism-related cases and award of exemplary punishments to them.”
The statement said the campaign would also be complemented by socioeconomic measures aimed at addressing the genuine concerns of people and creating an environment that discourages extremist tendencies.
It would also leverage the information space to promote a unified national narrative in support of the efforts to eradicate militancy from the country.
“The forum reiterated that the fight against extremism and terrorism is Pakistan’s war and is absolutely essential for the nation’s survival and well-being,” the statement informed. “The forum resolved that no one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the state without any exception.”
It noted that the apex committee participants also reviewed measures to ensure foolproof security for Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
INVESTOR CONFIDENCE
Earlier, the prime minister emphasized the necessity of developing a strong and comprehensive response to the challenge of militant violence in Pakistan, saying it was not possible for a “soft state” to strengthen its economy since it tends to lose confidence of potential investors.
He made the observation only a day after senior Chinese politician Liu Jianchao said in Islamabad that Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining the confidence of investors from his country.
Liu’s statement reinforced concerns raised by authorities in Beijing following several attacks on Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure development projects in Pakistan, including a suicide bombing in March this year that killed five of them.
“For sustainable development in Pakistan, stability and the rule of law are essential,” the prime minister said. “It is our collective responsibility to enforce the writ of the state with full force and without exception.”
“A soft state can never earn the confidence of investors, whether they are domestic or foreign,” he continued. “Therefore, a healthy and strong economy cannot be envisaged in an unstable state plagued by terrorism.”
Sharif maintained fighting militant violence was the joint responsibility of all institutions of the state.
“We have very easily left this matter to the officers and soldiers of our armed forces,” he added. “The provinces and governments have completely absolved themselves of this responsibility. This is the dangerous approach that has developed over the past years.”
He noted this was not the way Pakistan could “end terrorism.”
“After the 18th amendment in the constitution, the provincial governments have a significant role in this effort and have also been provided resources,” he said. “Therefore, I expect that the provinces will play an active part in combating terrorism. Together, God willing, we will eradicate this scourge.”
Sharif said it was important for everyone to take the ownership of the war against militancy, adding that leaving it to just one institution of the state would be a “grave mistake.”
Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s interior minister Mohsin Naqvi also held a meeting to review the security measures for foreign nationals, particularly the Chinese workers in the country.


Pakistan condemns ‘reprehensible’ attack by Afghan nationals on Frankfurt consulate

Updated 16 sec ago
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Pakistan condemns ‘reprehensible’ attack by Afghan nationals on Frankfurt consulate

  • Social media footage shows Afghan nationals took down Pakistan’s flag at consulate
  • Pakistan embassy says is in contact with German authorities to ensure legal action

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s embassy in Germany on Sunday condemned an attack by Afghan nationals on its Frankfurt consulate this week by describing it as “reprehensible,” saying it is in contact with German authorities to ensure legal action is taken against the perpetrators. 

Footage on social media from Saturday showed a large crowd of angry Afghan nationals jumping the fence into the Pakistan consulate in Frankfurt and taking down the country’s flag.

As per various media reports, Afghan nationals pelted the consulate with stones and shouted abuses during their protest. 

“We condemn reprehensible vandalising act @pakinFrankfurt by miscreants on 20 July 2024,” the Pakistan embassy in Germany wrote on social media platform X. 

“We are in contact with [German] authorities to ensure such a situation doesn’t arise again & the miscreants face legal consequences,” it added. 

The embassy appealed to Pakistanis in Germany to remain patient and calm in the aftermath of the episode. 

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have steadily increased since the Afghan Taliban seized Kabul in August 2021. Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks on its soil since November 2022 after a fragile truce between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) outfit broke down. 

Pakistan blames Afghanistan for sheltering TTP militants and has asked Kabul to take action against them. However, Afghanistan denies the allegations and has warned Pakistan against carrying out its threats of conducting cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. 

Tensions between both countries escalated in March this year after Pakistan struck alleged militant targets inside Afghanistan. Kabul said the strikes killed three women and three children. 

Relations between the two countries also took a hit after Pakistan last year launched a deportation drive to expel undocumented foreigners from its country. 

Over 600,000 Afghan nationals have since last year left Pakistan and returned to their country, which they had left over the past couple of decades due to war and persecution.


PCB chief to attend upcoming ICC meet with spotlight on Champions Trophy hosting rights

Updated 42 min 14 sec ago
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PCB chief to attend upcoming ICC meet with spotlight on Champions Trophy hosting rights

  • PCB Chairman Mohsin Naqvi to represent Pakistan at ICC’s annual conference on Monday
  • India likely to raise issues over traveling to Pakistan for next year’s Champions Trophy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Mohsin Naqvi is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka today, Sunday, to attend a key International Cricket Council (ICC) conference where discussions are likely to revolve around whether Pakistan will fully host the ICC Champions Trophy tournament next year or not. 

Pakistan is set to host the Champions Trophy tournament scheduled to be played in the country from February to March 2025. However, doubts have been cast on whether Pakistan will host the entire tournament on its soil with India expected to refuse to travel to its neighboring country for the event. 

No Indian cricket team has played in Pakistan since the 2008 Asia Cup. Relations between the two governments have deteriorated steadily since then, especially after the Mumbai terror attacks the same year.

Pakistan was forced to settle for a “hybrid” model last year when the Indian team refused to tour Pakistan for the Asia Cup. India played its Asia Cup matches in Sri Lanka, including the final, in Colombo. However, Pakistan’s cricket team toured India later in 2023 to take part in the 50-over World Cup. 

“PCB Chairman Mohsin Naqvi will arrive on a brief one-day tour in Sri Lanka today,” the board said in a statement. 

“Chairman PCB will take part in the important ICC meeting tomorrow [Monday].”

The conference, which commenced on Friday, has brought together over 220 delegates from 108 ICC member countries from across the world, covering regions such as Africa, the Americas, Asia, East Asia Pacific, and Europe.

The gathering of cricket administrators and stakeholders from around the globe will provide the platform for discussions on the strategic direction of the sport, governance, and the development of cricket worldwide.

While the Champions Trophy hosting is not officially part of the conference’s agenda, both PCB and BCCI are expected to collide over the matter in discussions.


Pakistan’s opposition alliance announces countrywide protest on July 26 for ex-PM Khan’s release

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan’s opposition alliance announces countrywide protest on July 26 for ex-PM Khan’s release

  • Ex-PM Khan has been in jail since last August on charges his party dismisses as “politically motivated“
  • Six-party opposition alliance demands judicial commission to probe recent shooting at Bannu rally 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s six-party opposition alliance, the Tehreek Tahafuz Ayeen-e-Pakistan (or the Movement to Protect the Constitution of Pakistan) announced this week it would hold a countrywide protest on July 26 to demand the release of former prime minister Imran Khan and other “political prisoners” in the country. 

Khan, who ruled the country as prime minister from 2018 to 2022, has been in jail after being convicted in four cases since last August. Two of the cases have since been suspended and he was acquitted in a third. 

Last week, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were arrested by Pakistani authorities in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, after a court accepted their appeals against a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law and ordered their immediate release.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of its members for standing by Khan. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.

“Opposition alliance of Tehreek Tahafuz Ayeen-i-Pakistan (TTAP) announced to hold a countrywide protest on Friday (July 26) for the release of all political prisoners including PTI Founding Chairman Imran Khan and reclaiming the stolen mandate,” a press release issued after the alliance’s meeting on Saturday said. 

The six-party alliance comprises the PTI, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Balochistan National Party (Mengal), as well as three religious parties: Jamaat-e-Islami, the Sunni Ittehad Council and Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen

Khan’s party also claims that the national election held in February this year was heavily rigged to keep him and the PTI away from power. Pakistan’s government and election regulator have rejected these allegations. 

’INDEPENDENT JUDICIAL COMMISSION’

Separately, the alliance also called for the formation of an independent judicial commission to probe a recent shooting at a Bannu rally in northwestern Pakistan that triggered a stampede and resulted in casualties and injuries to several. 

At least two persons were killed and more than 20 injured after gunfire triggered a stampede at the procession attended by tens of thousands of people in the northwestern city on Friday. 

The demonstration was held at a time when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, has witnessed a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks.

The shocking increase in daily attacks led the residents of the area to demand peace only a few days after 10 soldiers were killed by militants in Bannu’s cantonment area.

“They demanded that an independent judicial commission should be constituted immediately to probe into the deaths and injuries caused by the firings on Bannu Aman [Peace] March,” the statement read. 

The alliance stressed the need for a judicial commission to probe the incident, saying it should be headed by a serving judge. The alliance said the judge should be “free from any external pressure” to ensure a transparent investigation into the Bannu incident. 

The press release added the meeting criticized senior police and provincial administration officials, saying they had “miserably failed in restoring peace in the province” and must be dismissed.


All Pakistani students in Bangladesh safe, confirms foreign office 

Updated 21 July 2024
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All Pakistani students in Bangladesh safe, confirms foreign office 

  • Deadly clashes between students, law enforcers broke out in Bangladesh this week over allocation of government jobs 
  • Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson says Pakistani students in Bangladesh have been shifted to safe accommodations

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch this week confirmed that all Pakistani students were safe in Bangladesh and had been shifted to safe locations in the country, following days of deadly clashes between protesters and law enforcers over the allocation of government jobs. 

The protests, led by students which began weeks ago but escalated sharply this week, represent the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since she won a fourth consecutive term in office after elections in January.

Bangladesh media outlets have reported different figures over the number of people killed in the clashes, with some saying the riots caused the deaths of 17 people while others reported 23 dead. The government on Friday imposed a nationwide curfew and ordered the deployment of troops to maintain order. 

“Our mission in Dhaka is in contact with all students,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement on Saturday. “The deputy head of mission has visited Chittagong to meet the students there as well. All students are safe.”

Baloch said the Pakistani high commission in Bangladesh has shifted students to safe accommodations in the country. 

“These include the high commission, the ambassador’s residence and some other safe locations,” she said. 

The deadly protests in Bangladesh have highlighted cracks in the country’s governance and economy and the frustration of young graduates who face a lack of good jobs.

The protesters are demanding an end to a quota system that reserves up to 30 percent of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 against Pakistan.

They argue the system is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, and they want it replaced with a merit-based system.

But Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the highest respect for their contributions to the war regardless of their political affiliation.

The Bangladeshi leader is credited for bringing stable growth to Bangladesh, but rising inflation — thanks in part to the global upheaval sparked by the war in Ukraine — has triggered labor unrest and dissatisfaction with the government.


Pakistan’s disaster management authorities warn of floods in Sindh, Punjab from next week

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan’s disaster management authorities warn of floods in Sindh, Punjab from next week

  • Heavy monsoon rains killed 24, injured 80 in Punjab last weekend, as per official figures
  • Monsoon rains expected to lash parts of Sindh, Punjab from Monday to Thursday next week

ISLAMABAD: The Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) in Pakistan’s Sindh and Punjab provinces have warned of flash floods in the country’s two provinces from next week amid a forecast of heavy rains, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported on Sunday. 

Heavy monsoon rains have lashed Punjab and Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces this week. At least 24 people were killed and 80 injured in Punjab last weekend as heavy rains lashed many parts of the province, official figures said.

“Provincial Disaster Management Authorities of Punjab and Sindh have warned of flash floods in various cities of the provinces due to heavy monsoon rains, likely to start from tomorrow till Thursday,” Radio Pakistan reported.

PDMA Punjab spokesperson said floods were expected in Punjab’s cities of Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Narowal, Sahiwal, Jhang, and Toba Tek Singh, among others. 

As per Pakistan’s Meteorological Department, rains and thunderstorms are likely to occur in Sindh’s Tharparkar, Umarkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, Hyderabad, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allah Yar, Matiari, Kambar, Shadad kot, Kashmore, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Ghotki, Sukkur, Thatta and Sajawal districts.

“The spokesperson said PDMA issued an alert for the administration of these cities to take necessary precautions,” Radio Pakistan said. 

The spokesperson urged the public to follow the government’s instructions and take necessary precautionary measures to avoid any damage.

Pakistan is recognized as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change effects in the world. Unusually heavy rains in June 2022 triggered flash floods in many parts of the country, killing over 1,700 people, inflicting losses of around $30 billion, and affecting at least 30 million people.