For years, Pakistan has denied that the Afghan Taliban enjoys a safe haven on its soil or that Islamabad could do anything to end their violent campaign in Afghanistan that has seen tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and international troops killed since 2002.
But in an unusually candid admission, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, says that Islamabad has considerable influence over the Taliban because its leaders live in the country.
"We have some influence over them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities. Their families are here," he said. "We can use those levers to pressurize them to say, 'Come to the table'. But we can't negotiate on behalf of the Afghan government because we cannot offer them what the Afghan government can offer them."
Aziz made the comments at Washington's Council on Foreign Relations think tank on March 1. He added that Islamabad pressured Afghan Taliban leaders to participate in the first-ever direct talks with the Afghan government on July 7, 2015.
"We have to use these levers and [have] restricted their movements, restricted their access to hospitals and other facilities, and threatened them that 'If you don't come forward and talk, we will at least expel you'," he said of the tough message Islamabad sent to Taliban leaders, most of whom are believed to be operating out of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan Province.
"[We told the Taliban leaders that] we have hosted [them] enough for 35 years, and we can't do it anymore because the whole world is blaming us just by [their] presence here," he said.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and China last week agreed on a road map to end the Afghan war through negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban.
Taliban representatives are expected to join Afghan officials in the first round of peace talks in Pakistan during the next few weeks.
Aziz, however, took pains to convince Washington's audience that Islamabad has abandoned its support for the Islamist militant groups.
"After our government came into power in 2013, there has been a significant change in our policy. We are now moving against all terrorists without discrimination," he said.
Speaking alongside US State Secretary John Kerry on February 29, Aziz said Pakistan now has little interest in fomenting violence in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Who would like to set one's own neighbor on fire with the hope of saving one's backyard?" he asked.
This article was originally published on gandhara.rferl.org and has been reproduced with permission.
QUETTA: The security forces in Balochistan claimed to have killed seven suspected militants during operations carried out in Kech and Kohlu districts of the province on Wednesday.
Four suspected militants were killed during an exchange of fire in Kohlu district in the evening, while there suspects, including a key commander of the outlawed Baloch Republican Army (BRA), were killed in Kech district earlier in the day.
The spokesman for Frontier Constabulary, Khan Wasey, said the miscreants killed in Kohlu district belonged to an outlawed militant organisation operating in the area. Two suspects were injured during exchange of fire.
He said five sanctuaries were also demolished during the search operation in the aftermath of the killings. A cache of arms and ammunition was also recovered from the possession of suspected militants, said Wasey.
Earlier, the security forces acted on a tip-off regarding the presence of militants in Dasht area of district Kech and killed three miscreants belonging to the BRA.
Wasey said a key militant commander of the banned outfit was also among the dead and added that security forces had also recovered weapons from their possession.
The spokesman further said the militants were involved in killings of labourers working at Shadi Kor Dam.
The outlawed Baloch Republican Army (BRA), one of the major insurgent groups operating in Balochistan, is believed to be the militant wing of the separatist Baloch Republican Party (BRP).
Brahmdagh Bugti, who is the grandson of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and is living in self-exile in Switzerland, heads the BRP.
Dasht Tehsil of Kech district is considered to be one of the sensitive areas of Balochistan.
Militants in the area have been targeting security forces and pro-government personalities in the area since the past ten years.
The current unrest in the province gained in intensity after the 2006 killing of 79-year-old Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a revered figure for many rebels.
Why do retention and enrolment rates in Pakistan drop drastically beyond the primary school level? The Pakistan Education Statistics 2014-15 factsheet compiled by Alif Ailaan shows that 62 per cent of students attend government schools, but only 20pc of all government schools provide higher education.
Private schools bridge the gap left by a shortage of government schools, but not everyone can afford a private school education, Saman Naz at Alif Ailaan tells Dawn.com over the phone.
While the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) has decreased by 1 million ─ from 25m to 24m ─ and retention rates have improved, almost half all children between the ages of five and 16 are out of school and more than 18m have never seen the inside of a classroom
Gender disparity is also evident in school enrolment rates, with over half of all girls out of school compared to 43pc of boys.
And although improvements have been made in school infrastructure, many schools do not have school buildings, while others lack buildings in satisfactory condition, as well as other basic facilities like toilets, drinking water and electricity.
Nearly 24m ─ 47pc ─ of Pakistan’s estimated 51m children between the ages of five and 16 are out of school. While the dropout rate is a serious concern, enrolment remains the major challenge.
Of the 24m out-of-school children, 18.6m have never attended school, while 5.4m enrolled at some point but dropped out.
Balochistan has the highest proportion of out-of-school children, followed by the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). As many as 70pc of children in Balochistan and 60pc in Fata are out of school.
Despite a five-year trend depicting increasing enrolment rates, many children are still out of school and more girls than boys are not in school ─ 12.8m girls remain out of school compared to 11.2m boys.
Of all the children enrolled in primary school in Pakistan, 69pc are retained until class 5 and only 28pc until class 10. The good news is that this is a 3pc increase from the 25pc of previous years.
Enrolment and retention vary by province. Balochistan and Fata’s retention rates until class five are the lowest at 34pc and 32pc respectively, while Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Islamabad have the highest rates at 93pc and 92pc respectively, with a national overall of 69pc.
Enrolment drops drastically after the primary level, but more steeply so for girls than boys.
Boys continue to outnumber girls at every stage of education. Nearly 10m boys and 8.1m girls are enrolled at the primary level; this drops to 1.9milion boys and 1.4m girls at the higher level, and just 1m boys and 700,000 girls at the higher secondary level.
Although 87pc of primary schools are public schools, there is a greater proportion of private schools providing middle and higher education, at 62pc and 60pc respectively.
This may be because 80pc of government schools are primary schools, while only 11pc are middle schools, 8pc high schools and 1pc higher secondary schools.
The shortage of public schools at higher levels of education appears problematic as 62pc of the student population attends government schools, while about 38pc attends private schools.
Despite improvements in government school facilities, a lot remains to be accomplished, the factsheet says.
About 9pc of schools operate without a school building, while 38pc operate without a building in satisfactory condition. The problem is most pronounced in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, where 31pc of government schools and an additional 29pc of single-classroom schools operate without a building.
Sindh's government schools are even worse off than Balochistan's in this respect, with 17pc of schools operating without a building, and an additional 32pc of single-classroom schools without a building ─ in comparison to Balochistan's 14pc and 30pc respectively in both categories.
44pc of government schools operate without electricity, 28pc without toilets and 34pc without drinking water. In light of recent attacks on schools in Pakistan, the absence of a boundary wall in 30pc of all government schools is a also a source of concern.
While poor quality of teaching is regarded as one of the reasons for the high dropout rates in schools, data reveals 51pc of government school teachers have at least a Bachelor's degree in education.
Of the 49pc who don't have university-level degrees, 30pc have a PTC qualification, while 8pc are communal teachers. Around 7pc have received other training, while 1pc are untrained.
The greatest number of single-teacher primary schools is in Balochistan, where over half of all schools have only one teacher.
Balochistan is followed by Sindh, where almost half of all schools at the primary level have a single teacher. There are no single-teacher schools in Islamabad.
Islamabad boasts the lowest student-teacher ratio, with 16 students for every teacher. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the highest student-teacher ratio, with 42 students for every teacher. The average student-teacher ration in Pakistan is 33:1.
Alif Ailaan, an organisation run by a team of media and strategic communications specialists, put together the Pakistan Education Statistics 2014-15 factsheet.
The data presented in the factsheet was collected at a district level and compiled at the provincial and regional levels from the Annual School Census (ASC), which is regularly conducted every year by provincial and regional Education Management Information Systems (EMIS).
EMIS reports published annually since 1992 provide data on key indicators.
Each province/region is responsible for providing data to NEMIS for compiling ASC data at the national level, which frames the core of the Pakistan Education Statistics factsheet.
ISLAMABAD: Secretary Privatisation Commission Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera on Tuesday confirmed that the government was moving ahead with the privatisation of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
He said all queries about the process would be answered after the financial adviser finalises the transaction structure of the airlines.
“Currently, it is under consideration to bifurcate PIA into core and non-core businesses. The core business will comprise PIA flight operations, landing and handling, kitchens, training and education, engineering and healthcare, which will be handed over to the strategic investor,” Mr Sukhera said.
“The non-core business such as real estate and hotels would not be handed over to the strategic partner.”
The secretary was briefing the National Assembly standing committee on finance in the Parliament House. The meeting was chaired by Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh of the ruling PML-N.
The official said a report compiled by the FA would be sent to the PC board and subsequently to the cabinet committee on privatisation for a final decision.
He informed the committee that the non-core business of PIA included real estate assets such as Roosevelt Hotel in New York, a hotel in Paris, other hotels and an engineering complex in Karachi. “But these would not be handed over to the strategic partner when the airlines is privatised,” he added.
He said the transactional structure of the PIA would be finalised once the Senate approves the PIA bill. The National Assembly has already passed the bill.
The officials faced a barrage of questions from the members belonging to PTI and PPP. Over the repeated failure of the officials to answer some of the queries, Asad Umar of the PTI staged a walkout.
Mr Umar had asked about the reasons behind the jump in the PIA losses. He said the accumulated losses of the national flag carrier stood at Rs34 billion in 2007 and jumped to Rs254 billion in seven years.
“Why they cannot answer even a simple question? Either they are incompetent or hiding something,” he said while walking out of the committee room.
However, Dr Nafisa Shah of the PPP continued grilling the officials. “Will the strategic partner bear the losses worth around Rs255 billion of the PIA,” she asked.
The officials of the Privatisation Commission told the committee that the operational revenues of the PIA stood at Rs112 billion to Rs116 billion between 2008 and 2012, which declined to Rs91 billion according to the provisional results on December 31, 2015.
The fuel cost, which stood at 30 to 35pc in 2011, has now declined to 13pc of the total operation cost in the wake of the declining oil prices in the international market.
But Dr Shah wondered how the PIA losses increased manifold when the fuel cost decreased. In reply to a question about the employees’ salary bill, the officials said it stood at 15 to 16pc of the total PIA expenditures.
The chairman of the committee decided to summon the relevant authorities, including the PIA management, to brief the members on the financial details of the national flag carrier since 2000 to ascertain the reasons that increased the losses despite a reduction in the fuel prices.
Anyone who had watched Tere Bin Laden was disappointed to hear that the movie's leading man, Ali Zafar wouldn't be returning for the sequel.
Well, fret not: you'll still see him in the flick, just in a cameo this time. The singer turned actor will be making a special appearance in a song titled 'Six Pack Abs', which he naturally had to bulk up for.
Talking to the Mumbai Mirror, the 35-year-old recalls all the hard work he put in to get his new buff frame: "I had a strict schedule of three months to get into shape. I was off carbs and sugar and worked out twice a day before shooting kicked off. After we wrapped up, I binged on ice cream and parathasfor a month!"
"I was given the task of composing, writing and singing the song; I had a lot of fun with it. It's like an interesting take on the item number concept and the trend of acquiring abs to ensure a hit song," he elaborates on the song itself.
He also said that he lent the track a vintage Bollywood feel with a modern hook and quirky lyrics: "Everybody who hears it for the first time bursts out laughing."
While that's all well and good, we're still wondering why he didn't return in a main role for Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive.
"Tere Bin Laden and its makers are close to my heart. It was like we made history, with the first film of our careers going on to garner a cult following, coupled with it being the first venture where a Pakistani actor was cast as the protagonist, paving way for several others. When the sequel came underway, Abhishek (the director) and I were excited about it but as an actor I wanted to try something challenging, so he decided to just cast me in this interesting number!"
The film is slated for release on 19 February this year. It stars Manish Paul, Pradyuman Singh and Piyush Mishra; while stories of the first film and the second are linked, they are not in continuity.
QUETTA: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday inaugurated the Gwadar-Hoshab (M-8) road and reviewed the work being carried out on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
During the inspection of the newly constructed M-8 route, General Raheel Sharif personally drove the prime minister in an open-top vehicle.
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Lt Gen Asim Bajwa added that the locals were overjoyed with the progress of the CPEC project.
The inauguration ceremony of M8 was attended by Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Commander Southern Command Lieutenant General Amir Riaz and other high ranking military and civilian officials.
“The land-locked Central Asian states are interested in trade via the Gwadar port,” said the prime minister while addressing the attendees.
He stated on the occasion that CPEC would open new vistas of development and prosperity in the region in general and benefit the country in particular.
The prime minister also praised the services and sacrifices rendered by the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) during the construction of the ongoing project.
“Despite security problems, work is in full-swing on construction of roads in Balochistan,” added Nawaz.
The premier elaborated that after completion of CPEC and other related projects, Balochistan would not be dependent for financial aid on the federal government.
"CPEC would ensure economic development of Balochistan", he said, adding that the people of the province would be major beneficiaries of the mega project.
"Projects cannot be completed through mere slogans, rather a strategy is needed for completion of projects", he said.
The prime minister also reiterated his commitment on the occasion and said efforts were being made to develop Balochistan and bring it at par with other parts of the country.
Earlier in January, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had inaugurated the western route of the (CPEC) in Balochistan's Zhob and laid the foundation stones of two key projects: upgradation of the Zhob-Mughal Kot section of the Dera Ismail Khan-Qila Saifullah Highway (N-50) and the Qilla Saifullah-Waigam Rud Road section of the Multan-Dera Ghazi Khan-Qilla Saifullah Highway (N-70)
The CPEC is a 3,000-kilometer network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas from Gwadar Port to Kashgar city, northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Proposed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Pakistan in May 2013, the CPEC will act as a bridge for the new Maritime Silk Route that envisages linking three billion people in Asia, Africa and Europe.
An official agreement on the corridor was signed between the two countries in May this year during President Xi Jinping's historic visit to Pakistan.
A flagship project of the Belt and Road initiative as well, the CPEC intends to revive the ancient Silk Road with a focus on infrastructure, and constitutes the strategic framework of bilateral cooperation.
The project links China's strategy to develop its western region with Pakistan's focus on boosting its economy, including the infrastructure construction of Gwadar Port, together with some energy cooperation and investment programs.
It also involves road and railway construction including an upgrade of the 1,300-km Karakoram Highway, the highest paved international road in the world which connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountains.
The CPEC will reduce China's routes of oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East by thousands of kilometers, making Gwadar a potentially vital link in China's supply chain.
TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned yesterday against American “deceit”, just days after the end of sanctions under a nuclear deal that the central bank said would unblock $32 billion. The remarks underscored the still-strained relations between Tehran and Washington, which unveiled new missile-linked sanctions against Iran on Sunday almost as soon as the nuclear-related measures were scrapped. In his first comments since the atomic agreement was implemented at the weekend, Khamenei told President Hassan Rouhani in a letter to “guard against deceit and violations of arrogant states particularly the United States”.
Rouhani wrote to Khamenei on Monday to provide an update after the UN atomic watchdog declared Saturday that Iran had met conditions stipulated in the nuclear deal. “We have to watch if the other parties fulfil their commitments,” the supreme leader wrote in response. Washington cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979, when its embassy in Tehran was stormed by students, months after the Islamic revolution, leading to a 444-day hostage crisis. Khamenei has never endorsed repairing relations with the US and has largely followed a similar tack to Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who dubbed America the “Great Satan”.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s prime minister offered yesterday to host talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia aimed at resolving disputes between the Middle Eastern rivals. Nawaz Sharif met Rouhani in Tehran, a day after meeting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh. After his meeting with Rouhani, Sharif told reporters that Iran had expressed an interest in improving relations with Saudi Arabia and would appoint a focal person for future talks. Sharif said he would speak to Saudi Arabia to encourage the appointment of a focal person, and described reconciling the two countries as Pakistan’s “prime duty and sacred mission.” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said that Islamabad is deeply concerned at the recent escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Recession and Unemployment
Opening up to the world cannot completely fix the economy, Rouhani said yesterday in a televised speech, warning the “difficult road has just begun”. “Today is just the start for an innocent human who was kept chained unjustly by the hands and feet for 12 years,” said the president. “Sanctions are gone but there is a long way between sanctions and development,” he said, speaking to an economics conference in Tehran. “Today, our main problem is unemployment and recession, the lack of a booming economy and many structural and economic deficiencies.”
Iran hopes that steps to ease its isolation, including the re-admission of its banks to the SWIFT system of international transactions, will inject new vigour into the economy. The central bank said that $28 billion (25.8 billion euros) of the unfrozen funds would go to it and $4 billion “will be transferred to the state treasury as the share of the government”. The assets, which had been held in foreign banks, will be kept “in centralised and safe accounts” abroad, central bank chief Valiollah Seif was quoted by state television as saying, adding that the money could be used to pay for imports.
Iran’s economy suffered greatly under the international sanctions that since 2006 targeted the Islamic republic’s nuclear program and financial systems. Under the previous hardline government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, inflation topped 40 percent. But moderate Rouhani, whose election in 2013 heralded more than two years of nuclear negotiations with world powers, managed to curb inflation to 13 percent.
Iran needs annual foreign investment of $30-$50 billion to reach an eight percent growth target and cash in on sanctions relief, the president said Sunday. “Untapped potential in many industries indicates that domestic demand alone cannot drive the economy” towards that goal, he said, signalling a shift in policy. Iran announced a major boost of 500,000 barrels per day in oil production on Monday – a move Tehran had long planned for once its nuclear deal with world powers took effect.
The next budget starting in March is based on a projected oil price of $40 per barrel price and exports of 2.25 million barrels per day. Iran, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), now produces 2.8 million barrels of oil per day and exports just over one million barrels. Low oil prices and years of US and European Union sanctions that barred much of Iran’s foreign oil sales hammered its income from crude. But despite global prices falling below $30, Iran intends to increase production to recoup lost market share. – AFP