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 urges Microsoft users to update software as global tech outage eases after disruption

Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistan urges Microsoft users to update software as global tech outage eases after disruption

  • Pakistan Telecommunication Authority says the global IT outage was caused by a ‘faulty update’ from cybersecurity provider CrowdStrike
  • The outage also raised concerns that many organizations are not well prepared to implement contingency plans when an IT system goes down

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Friday urged Microsoft clients to update software from official support portal to restore tech services after a global computer system outage sparked widespread disruptions.
Services from airlines to health care, shipping and finance started coming back online late Friday after the outage was resolved, and companies were dealing with backlogs of delayed and canceled flights and medical appointments, missed orders and other issues that could take days to resolve.
A software update by global cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, one of the largest operators in the industry, triggered systems problems that grounded flights, forced broadcasters off air and left customers without access to services such as health care or banking.
PTA, which regulates Internet in Pakistan, said the significant global IT outage was caused by a “faulty update” from cybersecurity provider CrowdStrike, impacting thousands of Windows machines worldwide.
“This outage also affected consumers of Microsoft in Pakistan. The fault forced affected PCs (personal computers) and servers into a recovery boot loop, preventing proper startup. Some Internet services are also affected because of this,” it said in a statement.
“The fault was identified, isolated and a fix is provided by Crowdstrike, as per Crowdstrike’s website. Clients are now suggested to update the software from their support portal to restore services.”
CrowdStrike is not a household name but it is an $83 billion company with more than 20,000 subscribers around the world including Amazon.com and Microsoft. CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz said on social media platform X that a defect was found “in a single content update for Windows hosts” that affected Microsoft customers.
“We’re deeply sorry for the impact that we’ve caused to customers, to travelers, to anyone affected by this, including our company,” Kurtz told NBC News.
CrowdStrike has one of the largest shares of the highly competitive cybersecurity market, leading some industry analysts to question whether control over such operationally critical software should remain with just a handful of companies.
The outage also raised concerns that many organizations are not well prepared to implement contingency plans when a single point of failure such as an IT system, or a piece of software within it, goes down. But these outages will happen again, experts say, until more contingencies are built into networks and organizations introduce better back-ups.
- With additional input from Reuters


Pakistan IT exports increased by nearly $300 million in June amid growth push

Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistan IT exports increased by nearly $300 million in June amid growth push

  • Pakistan is trying to navigate a prolonged economic crisis by actively pursuing foreign investments and enhanced trade opportunities
  • It has lately encouraged its IT sector and facilitated collaboration with a number of nations, including Saudi Arabia, China and Qatar

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s information technology (IT) exports rose by nearly $300 million in the month of June, the country’s state minister for IT said on Friday, amid a push for the growth of IT sector.
Pakistan is trying to navigate a prolonged economic crisis by actively pursuing foreign investments and enhanced trade opportunities, while it has also reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $7 billion loan.
Pakistan has lately encouraged its IT sector and facilitated collaboration with a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, China and Qatar, to boost IT exports in the South Asian nation of 241 million.
“Pakistan’s export remittance of ICT services increased by $298 million in June 2024,” State Minister for IT Shaza Fatima said in a statement. “IT exports have increased by 32.44 percent compared to June last year.”
From July 2023 to June 2024, Pakistan’s IT exports reached $3.223 billion, compared to $2.596 billion in the same period of the previous financial year, according to the minister.
Government measures are in progress to increase IT exports of the country.
“Thanks to the government’s ease-of-doing-business measures, our IT exports are increasing,” she said.
“The IT industry is striving to increase IT exports with the full support of SIFC (Special Investment Facilitation Council), IT ministry, Pakistan Software Export Board.”


Pakistani rice traders warn government of drop in exports due to additional taxes

Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistani rice traders warn government of drop in exports due to additional taxes

  • Local traders of the commodity set $5 billion of export target before government introduced new tax regime
  • National Assembly Standing Committee on Commerce will take up the issue in its forthcoming meeting next week

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani rice traders on Friday warned the government of a possible reduction in their exports to $2 billion, against the ambitious $5 billion target, blaming the new tax regime expected to make them pay a larger share of their earnings than in the past.
The country’s rice exports to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China, Malaysia and other countries reached $3.9 billion in the last fiscal year, a noticeable improvement compared to the previous year’s $2.1 billion, reflecting an upward trajectory.
For the current fiscal year, Pakistani rice traders have been eyeing $5 billion. However, they say this might not happen due to the government’s decision to replace the Final Tax Regime with the Hybrid Tax Regime, which would double the tax rates and force exporters to file returns each month.
The Final Tax Regime refers to a system where specific sources of income, such as dividends, have final tax deductions made at the source, meaning no further tax is payable. In contrast, the Hybrid Tax Regime applies to businesses or individuals with multiple income streams, combining final taxed income with additional taxable income, requiring more meticulous filing of returns and higher overall tax rates.
“This new tax regime will leave us uncompetitive in the international market,” Chela Ram Kewlani, Chairman Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan, told Arab News. “This will automatically result in a drop in our rice exports to $2 billion as we have already been doing business at record high markup rates and electricity costs.”
He said the new tax regime would open the door for the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the country’s tax collection body, to audit their business, resulting in “corruption and harassment” of rice exporters.
“There is a clear contradiction in the government’s statements and actions,” he said. “They want to boost the exports, but at the same time they want to burden the sector with heavy taxes.”
Kewlani said, besides the new tax regime, the government would levy 10 percent super tax if the exports of a trader went beyond Rs4 billion ($14.4 million).
He informed the exporters held a meeting with Federal Minister for Finance Muhammad Aurangzeb last week to discuss the issue, though it did not yield their desired results.
“You are aware of the economic situation, so the government has no option but to levy additional taxes on the rice exports,” he said while quoting the finance minister.
Muhammad Jawed Hanif, Chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Commerce, said he was aware of the challenges posed by additional taxes, adding the committee would discuss the matter in its next meeting.
“We have a meeting on July 24 wherein we will discuss these rice export issues,” he told Arab News.
“All issues related to exports will be on my priority list as the country badly needs foreign exchange through increased exports of our products,” he added.


Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance

Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance

  • The court said earlier this month ex-PM Khan’s PTI was eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities
  • ECP dismissed PTI’s criticism asking its top official to step down while accusing him of bias against the party

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulatory body said on Friday it would enforce the Supreme Court’s verdict in a case involving the reserved seats for women and minorities in national and provincial legislatures, adding it had asked its lawyers to determine if there were areas where it needed the court’s further guidance.
The country’s top court delivered a major decision in favor of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, saying it was eligible for reserved seats in national and provincial assemblies, even as it put pressure on the fragile coalition currently ruling the federation.
PTI candidates were forced to contest the February 8 general polls as independents after the party was stripped of its election symbol of the cricket bat by the top court for not holding proper intra-party elections. While these candidates won the most general seats, the ECP ruled they were not entitled to the reserved seats since they were meant for political parties.
Subsequently, these seats were allocated to other political factions, mostly from those in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition. But the Supreme Court reversed the decision while criticizing the ECP for misconstruing its decision related to the election symbol by depriving PTI of its reserved seats.
“The election commission has decided to implement the Supreme Court’s decision,” the ECP said after holding a meeting to discuss the verdict. “However, the election commission has instructed its legal team to immediately identify any points of the Supreme Court decision that pose implementation challenges so that further guidance can be sought from the court.”
It also responded to PTI’s criticism, which called for the top ECP official to step down following the Supreme Court’s verdict, accusing him of harboring a bias against the party.
“The election commission did not validate PTI’s intra-party elections, which PTI contested on various forums, and the election commission’s decision was upheld,” it said.
It pointed out that PTI lost its election symbol for the same reason.
“Therefore, any accusations against the election commission are highly inappropriate,” it added.
Pakistan’s ruling coalition criticized the Supreme Court’s decision, with some of its members pointing out the court gave relief to PTI, though it had not originally filed the case.
However, the Supreme Court said in its decision that “PTI was and is a party,” despite its earlier verdict depriving it of election emblem right ahead of the general polls.


Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection

Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection

  • PNS Yarmook is equipped with latest weapons and equipment, capable of dealing with multifaceted threats
  • It will also be used for ‘naval diplomacy’ during its deployment period and visit various ports around the region

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has deployed a warship for regional maritime security and to protect commercial vessels arriving at its ports, according to a statement released by the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), on Friday.
The development comes as the country plans to upgrade its southern port facilities to strengthen its economy by bolstering trade with countries worldwide.
Pakistan has also offered the landlocked Central Asian states access to its harbor in Karachi while aiming to increase its capacity for handling incoming and outgoing cargo.
“The Pakistan Navy has deployed the warship PNS Yarmook on a regional maritime security patrol in the Indian Ocean,” the ISPR said in a statement. “Equipped with modern helicopters, PNS Yarmook will ensure the safety of commercial vessels arriving at and departing from Pakistani ports.”
The statement said the warship would participate in joint operations and exercises with friendly countries in addition to its own operations.
PNS Yarmook will also be part of “naval diplomacy” and visit various regional ports during its deployment.
“This ship is equipped with the latest weapons and equipment, capable of dealing with multifaceted threats and conducting extensive maritime operations,” the ISPR continued.
“Pakistan Navy warships regularly perform duties on regional maritime security patrols,” it added.