Pakistan News

The Pakistan Army on Sunday morning said that it is "fully ready" to assist the federal government in an operation against protesters who remain camped out at the Faizabad Interchange even after a day-long crackdown by law enforcement agencies.

On Saturday, an operation was launched by the Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, against religious protesters who had all but paralysed the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for over a fortnight.

Saturday's operation culminated with the Interior Ministry sending out a formal requisition for the deployment of military troops in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

By daylight on Sunday, there was no sign of armoured vehicles or soldiers on the streets. Social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, which had been suspended a day earlier remained restricted. Private television broadcasts remained blocked as well.

In response to the government's request for assistance with the operation, the Army — in an official letter to the Interior Ministry — said that it was prepared to cooperate with security personnel in keeping with Article 245 of the Constitution to protect the life and property of the residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

However, the letter states that before troops are deployed, there are a "few aspects meriting deliberation", such as how the "police has not been utilized to its full capacity" in dealing with the religious protesters.

It points out that "the Pakistan Rangers have not been given written instructions."

The letter also highlights that the Army is not a force traditionally used to disperse crowds or protesters, adding that the terms of the military's deployment in the twin cities need to be clarified in keeping with orders passed by the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court earlier this week.

On Friday, the IHC, displeased with government inaction against the Faizabad protesters, had pointed out that the participants of the sit-in could be dispersed using options other than bullets.

Similarly, the SC on Thursday had said that the efforts of the government to avoid loss of life by refraining from launching its operation against protesters were commendable. However, the apex court had added that "it does not follow that protesters can only be removed by firing upon them."

 

Protests continue on Sunday

The protesters amassed at the Faizabad bridge belong to various 'religious' parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), and have been calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017 ─ which had earlier been deemed a 'clerical error'.

Earlier, protesters gathered near Kachnar Park in Islamabad set police vehicles alight early Sunday morning, police said.

Five motorcycles and one car belonging to the police personnel were set alight by the protesters, police said, adding that the vehicles were personal property.

The protest participants also pelted police personnel deployed in the area with stones.

However, as the police have not been issued instructions to take action against the protesters so far today, the latter's actions were not met with any retaliation by the forces.

Between 50 and 60 protesters have gathered at the Taramri Chowk on Islamabad's Lehtarar Road, which has been blocked.

Protest participants also picked up two police officials from Islamabad's Sohan area, police said.

According to officials, negotiations are underway with the protesters for the return of the two officials.

Unrest in Karachi

Saturday's unrest in Islambad had spilled into cities across the country, including Karachi where roads were blocked and demonstrations were held.

Shahrah-e-Pakistan remained blocked on Sunday with oil tankers lined up along the highway since 2am.

A large number of protesters gathered at Numaish Chowrangi told DawnNews that they would continue their demonstrations until either their leaders in Faizabad told them to stop or their demands for Law Minister Zahid Hamid's resignation were fulfilled. The protesters continued to chant anti-government slogans.

A day earlier

A day earlier, at least six were killed and hundreds were wounded as violent clashes broke out between law enforcement personnel and protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange.

Finally acting upon court orders, the Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, had launched an operation against protesters, who had amassed at the Faizabad Interchange ─ which connects Islamabad to Rawalpindi ─ on November 8. Around 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation.

A timeline of the crisis that has gripped Islamabad for the past 18 days

The operation was launched after several attempts by the government to hold talks with the protesters failed, with the latter remaining adamant on the matter of the law minister's resignation.

The use of tear gas, rubber bullets and batons by security personnel met with fierce resistance by protesters, who increased in number as the operation continued through the day.

At least 150 protesters were arrested before security forces withdrew.

Protests spread to other cities

Unrest in the federal capital spilled over to Karachi, as protesters loyal to the same religious parties took to the streets condemning the Faizabad operation. The protesters blocked roads and demonstrated at the Numaish traffic intersection in the city's busy Saddar area.

The protests later spread to other parts of the city, including Teen Talwar, Boat Basin, NIPA, Shahrah-i-Faisal near Stargate and Nursery, Hub River Road and Hassan Square, where both tracks of the road were closed for traffic.

At least 12 people were reportedly injured in skirmishes with police at Stargate and Nursery.

A large number of religious parties also took out rallies and staged demonstrations in Umerkot, Mithi, Sujawal and other towns of lower Sindh to register their protest against the ongoing operation against the protesters in Islamabad. They vowed to continue their protests.

Protest demonstrations were also held at Badin Press Club, Lahore's Imamia Colony and other settlements along the GT Road. Roads from Lahore to Gujranwala and Faisalabad were also closed.

ISLAMABAD: The Senate was told on Friday that 91 per cent of the revenues to be generated from the Gwadar port as part of the China-Pakistan Econo­mic Corridor (CPEC) would go to China, while the Gwadar Port Authority would get 9pc share in the income for the next 40 years.

This was disclosed by Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Bizenjo after senators expressed concern over the secrecy surrounding the CPEC long-term agreement plan, with many observing that the agreement tilted heavily in China’s favour.

The minister said that the agreement was based on a build-operate and transfer model spread over 40 years. That means that Pakistan will take over the operation of the port along with the infrastructure to be built on it during the period to enhance the port’s cargo-handling capacity.

However, Senator Kal­soom Parveen of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pointed out that the agreement had not been signed on the basis of equality as had been done with India. She asked Senate Chairperson Raza Rabbani to convene a meeting of the committee of the whole of council, in which all relevant departments which signed the pact would be called. Mr Rabbani, however, pointed out that there were already two committees on the CPEC, including a Senate committee and a parliamentary panel. He advised her to take up the issue at the Senate committee on CPEC.

ISLAMABAD: The Senate was told on Friday that 91 per cent of the revenues to be generated from the Gwadar port as part of the China-Pakistan Econo­mic Corridor (CPEC) would go to China, while the Gwadar Port Authority would get 9pc share in the income for the next 40 years.

This was disclosed by Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Bizenjo after senators expressed concern over the secrecy surrounding the CPEC long-term agreement plan, with many observing that the agreement tilted heavily in China’s favour.

The minister said that the agreement was based on a build-operate and transfer model spread over 40 years. That means that Pakistan will take over the operation of the port along with the infrastructure to be built on it during the period to enhance the port’s cargo-handling capacity.

However, Senator Kal­soom Parveen of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pointed out that the agreement had not been signed on the basis of equality as had been done with India. She asked Senate Chairperson Raza Rabbani to convene a meeting of the committee of the whole of council, in which all relevant departments which signed the pact would be called. Mr Rabbani, however, pointed out that there were already two committees on the CPEC, including a Senate committee and a parliamentary panel. He advised her to take up the issue at the Senate committee on CPEC.

ISLAMABAD: Protesters at the Faizabad sit-in beat up two photojournalists and tried to snatch their cameras on Wednesday while they were trying to capture images of an attack on police.

Muhammad Asim of White Star / Dawn and Jehangir Chaudhary of Daily Jang went through the horrifying experience after a group of protesters, armed with sticks and iron rods, tried to encircle some 20 policemen on a service road heading from the I-8 interchange to Faizabad.

While most of the cops managed to escape, a couple of them got trapped among the assailants and were roughed up.

When Muhammad Asim and Jehangir Chaudhary started photographing the incident, the attackers manhandled them as well. The protesters tried to snatch the two cameramen’s expensive equipment.

Fortunately, a few elderly persons stepped in and told the assailants to spare the cameramen, but only after they had agreed to delete the photographs.

The Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) condemned the incident.

In a statement, RIUJ Presi­dent Mubarak Zeb Khan said stopping journalists from executing their duty amounted to an attack on freedom of expression.

“We will not tolerate such acts whether they are carried out by the government or a group of individuals. We call upon the government to take a strict note of this incident and ensure that journalists are not manhandled and allowed free access for coverage,” the statement said.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017

WASHINGTON: Days before crucial talks with the US defence secretary, Pakistan has welcomed an American offer to take action against militants involved in cross-border raids from the Afghan soil, the Voice of America radio service reported on Wednesday.

The official US news outlet also reported that Pakistan believed the US offer “augurs well” for regional counterterrorism cooperation.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis is expected in Islamabad on Dec 3 for talks aimed at enlisting Pakistan’s support for implementing the new US strategy for Afghanistan. The strategy seeks to force the Taliban to join the Afghan peace process by defeating them in the battlefield.

Pakistan welcomes the US plan for persuading Taliban to seek reconciliation with the Afghan government but says that there’s no military solution to this dispute.

Earlier reports had suggested that the US military chief Gen Joseph Dunford could also visit Islamabad before Secretary Mattis for talks with his Pakistani counterpart and other senior officials. But official sources in Washington now say that Gen Dunford may not visit Islamabad, at least not before Secretary Mattis.

Diplomatic observers in Washington, however, see the US offer to take on TTP militants, and Pakistan’s acceptance of the offer, as a positive development.

In Rawalpindi, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, Major Gen Asif Ghafoor, told VOA his country had always offered and sought cooperation to strengthen border security.

“Unilaterally Pakistan, having cleared all areas on Pakistan side, has restored writ of [the] state, including steps like enhancing [troop] presence along the border [with Afghanistan], establishing new forts and posts and has also started to fence the border to deny freedom of movement to illegal crossers and terrorists,” Mr Ghafoor explained.

The offer to take action against anti-Pakistan militants came from Gen John Nicholson, who commands both US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Addressing a news conference in Kabul on Monday, Gen Nicholson said his offer was meant to discourage Pakistan’s army from shooting across the border into Afghanistan while responding to border raids by militants.

“We have also offered if they [Pakistan] have a concern about anything on this side of the Durand Line [the border] to let us know and we will act against it so that it is not necessary for cross-border shelling to occur,” he said.

Afghan officials claim that last week Pakistani forces fired hundreds of rounds of mortar shells into the Afghan border province of Kunar, forcing Afghan villagers to flee their homes in harsh winter weather.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017

A 28-year-old major of the Pakistan Army was martyred on Wednesday in an exchange of fire with terrorists in Dera Ismail Khan, said a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations.

Major Ishaq was killed while security forces were "conducting a search operation on presence of terrorists in a hideout" in DI Khan's Kulachi area, read the statement posted by Director General ISPR Major Gen Asif Ghafoor on Twitter.

Chief of Army Staff Qamar Jawed Bajwa and other army officials attended the funeral prayers of the martyred major who leaves behind a wife and a one-year-old son.

On November 13, at least two soldiers were martyred and four others were injured in a suspected militant attack on a checkpost near the Pak-Afghan border in Bajaur Agency. The martyred soldiers were identified as Capt Junaid Hafeez and Sepoy Raham.

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa reached Tehran on Sunday on a three-day official visit, the first by a Pakistani army chief in over two decades.

His arrival in Tehran was announced by military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor through a tweet. No formal statement was, however, issued revealing the caution with which the two sides are dealing with the visit that is seen by many as a major development in bilateral relations.

“COAS arrived Tehran, Iran on official visit. Scheduled to meet Iranian civilian and military leadership,” the ISPR director general tweeted.

It is expected that besides his meetings with top Iranian leadership, the army chief would also meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

 

The visit is expected to narrow the trust deficit between the two neighbours that profess to have ‘brotherly relations’, but have for long been on the opposite sides of the regional alignment and global politics. Their geo-political differences have manifested themselves in lack of cooperation on security issues between the two neighbours.

Key concern in Islamabad vis-à-vis Tehran is the growing Indian influence in Iran, which has predominantly been on the economic and trade side. There have been suspicions about India using Iranian soil for espionage in Pakistan. Tehran, meanwhile, is worried about presence of terrorist groups along the Pak-Iran border that have been targeting Iranian border forces.

Islamabad further has reservations about Tehran’s involvement in disputes in Arab world. Iran on the other hand suspiciously looks at Pakistan’s close ties with Arab monarchies.

Gen Bajwa has since the early days of his tenure worked on improving relations with Tehran. In this regard, he met Iranian envoy to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost several times over the past few months – at least three of which were made public. His approach towards Iran was driven by his understanding that “enhanced Pak-Iran military-to-military cooperation will have positive impact on regional peace and stability”.

The move for improvement in ties has been necessitated by evolving regional situation particularly the emergence of the militant Islamic State group as a major security threat and US plans for an open-ended stay in Afghanistan, which both sides see as detrimental for their interests in the region.

Director General Noor Institute of Strategic Studies Tehran Dr Sadollah Zarei, speaking at Islamabad Policy Institute, said: “Trump’s new policy for the region has made it all more important for the two neighbours to cooperate.”

Iran was one of the few countries to voice support for Pakistan after the latter was severely criticised by President Trump while unveiling Washington’s new policy for the region. Later Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif toured Tehran as part of his visit to regional countries for consultations on Trump’s policy.

Dr Zarei said there was a strong desire in Tehran for better relations with Pakistan.

Earlier visits by Gen Raheel Sharif (2016) and Gen Pervez Musharraf (2000) were not official visits by the army chief. Gen Raheel had accompanied the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif on a trip to Tehran for attempted mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, whereas Gen Musharraf went there as the country’s chief executive for participation in ECO Summit.

Analysts believe the start of a military dialogue between Pakistan and Iran would grant credibility to Pakistan’s policy of neutrality in the Middle East/Gulf even if they aren’t immediately able to make major strides towards better relations.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2017

LAHORE: According to Motorway Control Room, Motorway M-2 from Lillah interchange to Lahore, M-3 from Pindi Bhattian to Faisalabad and M-4 from Gojra to Faisalabad have been closed for all kinds of traffic due to dense smog and zero visibility.

The road users can access to Helpline 130 and Control Room number 051-9231001 to avoid inconvenience.

The drivers have also been advised to reduce speed and maintain safe distance.

Meanwhile, Punjab government is making concerted efforts for the prevention of smog across the province.

According to spokesman of the provincial government Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, 236 industrial units, accused of spreading pollution, have been sealed while FIR has been lodged against 60 units.

He said that farmers are being informed about the adverse effects of smoke from burning of munds of rice crop. –Samaa/app

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