British High Commissioner Pays Farewell Call on PM Shehbaz

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Thursday said that the Pakistan-UK relations are rooted in history, shared legacy, and strong people-to-people bonds, which have gone from strength to strength.

The prime minister made these remarks in his meeting with outgoing British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner who paid a farewell call on him at the Prime Minister’s House.

He said that the UK was Pakistan’s largest European trading, investment, and development partner. He said that the trajectory of the bilateral relations between our two countries showed immense potential for growth for the benefit of the two countries.

The prime minister lauded the services rendered by Dr Turner for the promotion of Pakistan-UK ties, especially in the fields of trade, investment, and economic cooperation.

The prime minister also commended the British High Commissioner for his proactive role in channelizing the UK’s support for the relief and recovery of the victims of climate-induced floods in Pakistan.

The prime minister appreciated his role in bringing the English cricket team to Pakistan after 17 years to play exciting cricket. Moreover, the prime minister was all praise for his remarkable role in the revival of commercial flight operations of British Airways in Pakistan

The prime minister expressed his best wishes for the High Commissioner in his future endeavors. He also hosted a lunch in the honor of the outgoing high commissioner.

Source: Pro Pakistan

Pakistan Business Council Expresses Satisfaction Over Govt’s Economic Policies

Pakistan Business Council has expressed satisfaction over the government’s economic policies.

A five-member delegation of the Pakistan Business Council (PBC) led by its Chairman Muhammad Aurangzeb called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday. The delegation assured the prime minister that it stands with the government in its efforts to bring the economy back on track.

The prime minister said that the government is working hard to stabilize the economy and blamed the previous government for damaging the country’s economy.

The prime minister said that the government will overcome the economic challenges with the support of the business community and the general public.

The meeting was attended by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Federal Minister for Board of Investment and Special Initiatives Chaudhry Salik Hussain, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Special Assistants to the Prime Minister Tariq Bajwa and Dr. Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan, Advisor to the Prime Minister Ahad Cheema, State Bank of Pakistan Governor and Federal Board of Revenue Chairman.

Source: Pro Pakistan

Pervez Musharraf, Former Pakistan President, Dies at 79

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has died. He was 79.

He was suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease in which an abnormal protein builds up in organs, causing them to malfunction.

Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup on Oct. 12, 1999, deposing democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Promising to soon restore democracy, Musharraf went on to rule for almost nine years, holding the offices of president and chief of army staff simultaneously for most of that time.

Just months before the coup, while under Musharraf’s command, Pakistani troops had entered the Kargil sector of Indian-administered Kashmir. The action brought the nuclear-armed neighbors face to face on a battlefield located 5,000 meters above sea level. The roughly three-month-long Kargil War ended after Pakistan withdrew its troops under U.S. pressure and returned territory it had taken from India. India put the official death toll of the war at 527, while estimates of losses on the Pakistani side vary from a few hundred to a few thousand.

This soured relations between the military and Prime Minister Sharif, who in October 1999 hastily tried to replace Musharraf. However, the army refused to accept the new chain of command, took over the capital Islamabad, arrested Sharif and disbanded parliament, all within a matter of hours.

Pakistan’s fourth military dictator, Musharraf initially enjoyed popularity as he promised to crack down on corruption and increase accountability. His support grew as Pakistan’s economy flourished on the back of foreign assistance that the country received for supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Musharraf’s vision of “enlightened moderation” – promoting a moderate rather than fundamentalist interpretation of Islam -- was welcomed by many in Pakistan who were worried by events in Afghanistan -- the rise of the Taliban, al-Qaida’s presence and the U.S. war on terror.

His era saw the Pakistani media landscape change as the government licensed dozens of private media houses to run news and entertainment channels in a market that until then had been largely occupied by the state broadcaster, Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).

However, as his rule dragged on, major political parties remained suppressed, thousands of political opponents were arrested, and the freedom of the media and judiciary was curbed. Musharraf eventually suspended the constitution in 2007 – an act for which he was tried for treason in 2013 and given capital punishment in absentia six years later. The punishment was struck down in 2020.

While still holding the office of the Chief of Army Staff, Musharraf ruled Pakistan as the Chief Executive from 1999-2001. His military-run government’s decision to support the U.S. in the Afghan war grew increasingly unpopular as Pakistan suffered a rise in militancy and terrorism from local groups that supported the Afghan Taliban.

Speaking to VOA years later, in 2010, Musharraf defended his decision, saying Pakistan would have suffered if it had not joined the U.S. lead coalition in Afghanistan.

“And this decision was in Pakistan’s interest, let me tell you. We did not do this for America. Does Pakistan need Taliban and Talibanization? Ask Pakistanis and I think everyone will say no. That’s why we had no need to support the Taliban and fight against the coalition in favor of the Taliban,” he said.

Washington and Kabul, however, often accused Pakistan of providing sanctuaries and support to the Afghan Taliban, a charge Pakistan officially denied.

In 2002 Musharraf held a referendum that solidified his position as the most powerful man in the country for the next five years. Voters were asked to say ‘yes’ to keeping him in the president and army chief’s roles until 2007, if they wanted Pakistan to stay on the path of economic reform and prosperity. Results of the referendum, disputed by political parties and civil society, showed 97% supported Musharraf.

But by 2007 Musharraf faced a plethora of problems.

His attempt to depose the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for alleged corruption led to a nationwide protest movement of lawyers that soon gained support from major political parties.

As political turmoil rose, Musharraf agreed to step down as army chief, but not before suspending the constitution and imposing a state of emergency in November 2007, citing “a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty.” All political activity was banned, media were gagged, and senior members of the judiciary were detained.

By now, two of Pakistan’s most popular political leaders, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who had spent most of Musharraf’s era in exile, were allowed to return under a controversial amnesty deal that ended corruption cases against them.

Bhutto’s assassination on Dec. 27, 2007, after a political rally in Rawalpindi, added to Musharraf’s woes. He was later accused of not giving the former prime minister adequate security, leading to her death. Musharraf denied the charges.

After his short-lived emergency, Pakistan held parliamentary elections in February 2008, which Bhutto’s party won. Facing impeachment, Musharraf resigned as president on Aug 18, 2008, and left Pakistan the next year.

His political ambitions, however, did not end. While shuttling between Dubai, the U.S. and U.K., he launched the All Pakistan Muslim League party and returned in 2013 to run in elections. Tepid public support and the Election Commission’s decision to disqualify him due to his past actions pushed him out of the field.

That same year a court ordered the former president and army chief’s arrest for detaining judges in 2007. However, the military stood by him, preventing him from going to jail.

After Musharraf’s archrival, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, won the 2013 elections, the government started proceedings against Musharaff on charges of high treason for suspending the constitution almost six years ago.

In 2019, a special court convicted Musharraf and handed him the death penalty. The decision calling for him to be hanged in public was met with anger by the powerful military and opposed by many others in Pakistan for its harsh language.

Next year, the Lahore High Court threw out the treason case and the death penalty against Musharraf. But hounded by legal troubles, he had already left Pakistan for Dubai in 2016 on medical grounds.

Musharraf survived at least four assassination attempts from militants, three during his rule.

He is survived by a wife, son and daughter.

Source: Voice of America

Pakistan Plans Political Consensus to Fight Growing Terrorism

In the wake of the deadly bombing of a mosque in northwestern Pakistan on January 30, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has called a conference of all political parties on February 7 to seek agreement on how to tackle terrorism.

As Pakistan mulls its response to the rising threat from Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, parliamentarians, including ministers, this week demanded that the military provide information about terrorism and leave the decision-making to elected representatives.

The massive bomb blast in a Peshawar mosque made January the deadliest month in Pakistan since July 2018, according to the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. Across the country, 134 people died and more than 250 were injured in at least 44 militant attacks during the month.

The bombing, which targeted police, climaxed a wave of near daily attacks since peace talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan failed last year and the militant group announced war against Pakistani security institutions.

Although the group, also known as the TTP, distanced itself from the Peshawar bombing after one of its factions took responsibility, it was behind most of last year’s deadly attacks.

This week, TTP fighters attacked a police station in Punjab province, showing their growing reach. The group is also building alliances with militants in the restive southwestern Baluchistan province.

Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad security affairs expert, called negotiating with the globally recognized terror group “a huge mistake” because it gave TTP a chance to reorganize.

“They have regrouped, and they are better armed because they are equipped now by probably more modern weaponry from Afghanistan, because lots of weapons have been left by the NATO forces and that has been used by the TTP,” said Hussain.

In a recent meeting of the cabinet, Sharif blasted his predecessor Imran Khan’s government for negotiating with the TTP.

In a nationally televised address, Khan defended that policy, saying that 30,000 to 40,000 TTP fighters wanted to come back to Pakistan after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan ended.

Referring to resettling TTP fighters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, Khan said his government had the option to “either kill all of them or reach an agreement with them and allow them to settle in the province.”

Parliamentarians say military officials briefed them about the possibility of talks with the TTP, but that negotiations were held without formal endorsement from elected representatives.

Pakistani Taliban and Afghanistan

TTP top leadership and thousands of fighters are allegedly present in Afghanistan. They fled there after the Pakistani military conducted operations in the former tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The TTP is an ideological offshoot of the Afghan Taliban. The terror group supported the Afghan Taliban in fighting the U.S.-led coalition.

Referring to Pakistan’s policy of fighting the Pakistani Taliban but supporting the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani parliamentarian Mohsin Dawar said, “There was a general narrative, which was coined by the state, that there is a good Taliban, there is a bad Taliban.”

"We've been saying for a very long time that TTP, this Imarat-e-Islami [Afghan Taliban] and the Haqqanis [Haqqani network], XYZ, all these are the same thing. You know, there is no difference between them,” said Dawar, who represents parts of the former tribal areas in the National Assembly of Pakistan’s bicameral parliament.

He said the victory of the Afghan Taliban had emboldened the Pakistani arm.

Speaking to the National Assembly after the Peshawar bombing, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif did not comment on the contradictory policies toward the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban but expressed regret over the state’s involvement in wars inside Afghanistan.

“We ourselves sowed the seeds of terrorism when the Russian troops entered Afghanistan and we provided our services to the U.S. on rent,” said Asif.

Pakistan contends the TTP is using Afghan territory to plan attacks and accuses Afghanistan of taking insufficient action against the terror group, a charge the Taliban rulers reject.

Military’s role

Residents of former tribal areas and other cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have been protesting for months, demanding government action as incidents of targeted killing, extortion and bombings rise.

Hussain said that while the military can be used to reclaim fallen territory, “terrorism is fought by the civilian forces in the long term” and government should strengthen police and counterterrorism departments to target breeding grounds of extremists, as the police “are in [a] much better position to know actually where those elements are.”

Civilian law enforcement in Pakistan is perpetually underfunded, routinely faces political interference and is often accused of corrupt practices.

In the lead-up to the all-parties conference on February 7, Sharif chaired a high-level meeting Friday to consider steps to upgrade the counterterrorism departments and police force.

Speaking to the National Assembly after the Peshawar attack, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said the military should place the facts before the house. He said the prime minister and the army chief would come to brief the lawmakers on the way forward.

Dawar is not hopeful lawmakers will be able to call the shots. He said parliament is “dysfunctional,” largely because of political wrangling between the ruling coalition and Khan’s party.

Senior members of Khan’s party have indicated he may not join the all-parties conference.

As the current and former prime ministers and their parties accuse each other of mishandling the threat of TTP, Dawar said none should be exempt from criticism, “because if you surrender your power and you leave your policymaking to the military leadership, it's your fault.”

Source: Voice of America

Deadly Bomb Targets Pakistan Military Convoy

A bomb blast in southwestern Pakistan Sunday reportedly killed at least one soldier and injured 12 people, including civilians.

The attack targeted a military vehicle at the entrance to a security checkpoint in a highly guarded central part of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, residents and officials said.

Neither provincial police nor the military’s media wing shared any details about the casualties or the nature of the Quetta blast.

The Pakistani Taliban insurgent group, also called Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, claimed responsibility, saying one of its suicide bombers carried out the attack on a military convoy. The insurgents gave a much higher casualty toll in the ensuing blast, but they often release inflated details about such attacks.

Rescue workers confirmed at least five passersby were injured in the attack and transported to a nearby civilian hospital.

The attack comes days after a massive bomb explosion ripped through a packed mosque in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing nearly 100 worshipers and injuring more than 150 others.

The Peshawar bombing killed and injured mostly members of the province police. Pakistani authorities said a suicide bomber disguised as a police officer had blown himself up inside the mosque, housed in the provincial police headquarters.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar carnage. Officials blamed TTP but the insurgents denied involvement.

Source: Voice of America

Afghan Women Prosecutors Once Seen as Symbols of Democracy Find Asylum in Spain

Pushing her son on a swing at a playground on a sunny winter's day in Madrid, former Afghan prosecutor Obaida Sharar expresses relief that she found asylum in Spain after fleeing Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took over.

Sharar, who arrived in Madrid with her family, is one of 19 female prosecutors to have found asylum in the country after being left in limbo in Pakistan without official refugee status for up to a year after the Taliban's return to power.

She feels selfish being happy while her fellow women suffer, she said.

"Most Afghan women and girls that remain in Afghanistan don't have the right to study, to have a social life or even go to a beauty salon," Sharar said. "I cannot be happy."

Women's freedoms in her home country were abruptly curtailed in 2021 with the arrival of a government that enforces a strict interpretation of Islam.

The Taliban administration has banned most female aid workers and last year stopped women and girls from attending high school and university.

Sharar's work and that of her female peers while they lived in Afghanistan was dangerous. Female judges and prosecutors were threatened and became the target of revenge attacks as they undertook work overseeing the trial and conviction of men accused of gender crimes, including rape and murder.

She was part of a group of 32 women judges and prosecutors that left Afghanistan only to be stuck in Pakistan for up to a year trying to find asylum.

A prosecutor, who gave only her initials as S.M. due to fears over her safety and who specialized in gender violence and violence against children said, "I was the only female prosecutor in the province ... I received threats from Taliban members and the criminals who I had sent to prison."

Now she and her family are also in Spain.

Many of the women have said they felt abandoned by Western governments and international organizations.

Ignacio Rodriguez, a Spanish lawyer and president of Bilbao-based 14 Lawyers, a non-governmental organization which defends prosecuted lawyers, said the women had been held up as symbols of democratic success only to be discarded.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was not in a position to comment on specific cases.

"The Government of Pakistan has not agreed to recognize newly arriving Afghans as refugees," UNHCR said in a statement. "Since 2021, UNHCR has been in discussions with the government on measures and mechanisms to support vulnerable Afghans. Regrettably, no progress has been made."

The foreign ministry of Pakistan did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Pakistan is home to millions of refugees from Afghanistan who fled after the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979 and during the subsequent civil war. Most of them are yet to return despite Pakistan's push to repatriate them under different programs.

The Taliban has said any Afghan who fled the country since it took power in 2021 can return safely through a repatriation council.

"Afghanistan is the joint home of all Afghans," said Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson for the Taliban administration. "They can live here without any threat."

Source: Voice of America