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Category — AfPak policy

Police remove IS flag waving in Islamabad

report in Daily Times,September 25th 2017.
ISLAMABAD: A flag similar to that of the militant Islamic State (IS) group was seen waving in Islamabad’s Khana area on Sunday morning, before being removed by the local police after a citizen reported the matter.

Police removed the flag, hoisted on a pole by an unidentified person, in the afternoon after one Naveed Khan — a resident of Dera Ismail Khan — informed Rescue 15 of the matter.

Khan, who was taken in by the police, said in his statement that he was travelling on the Sixth Road in Islamabad when he saw the flag. Khan added that he recognised the flag as he had seen it on the television before.

The flag had ‘Khilafat is coming’ written on it, in addition to the Arabic verses.

Taking notice of the matter, Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal asked the inspector general of police to file a report on the said matter.

Pakistan has repeatedly denied the presence of the militant organisation on its soil, while acknowledging the rise of IS in Afghanistan as a point of concern.

Over the past couple of years, reports of IS leaflets and pamphlets found in different parts of the country have circulated.

In January last year, IS leaflets were found in a girls school in Gujrat warning the administration to close down the school.

In 2014, leaflets calling for support of IS were seen in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while pro-IS slogans appeared on walls in several cities across the country.

September 25, 2017   No Comments

Islamic State flag spotted at Islamabad bridge

by Tahir Niaz in The Nation, Sept 25, 2017
ISLAMABAD – An ISIS flag was spotted hoisting at a bridge by a commuter in the federal capital near the main highway on Sunday morning.

The pedestrian bridge near Iqbal Town area where the flag of the international terrorist organization was spotted is six-seven kilometers from the city centre.

According to details, Khanna police removed the flag hoisted by unidentified persons on Sunday afternoon after a resident of Dera Ismail Khan informed Rescue 15 of the matter.

The matter was reported to Khanna police by Naveed Ahmed Khan son of Ahmed Khan.

Khan is currently a resident of Jinnah Garden, Islamabad.

After being informed, the police reached the spot and immediately removed the flag.

The police took the informer to the police station to get his statement recorded.

In his application to the police, Khan said that on the morning of 24 September 2017, he was travelling on the Expressway in Islamabad when he spotted ISIS flag hoisted at a bridge near Iqbal Town.

He said that he recognised the flag as he had seen it a number of times on television before.

Khan said the flag had Islam’s “declaration of faith” inscribed on it.

“I called the police on Rescue 15 and they reached the spot. They removed the flag and took me to the police station for recording [of] the statement,” he said, in his application.

Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal also took notice of the matter and asked the inspector-general of police, Islamabad to submit a report in this regard.

Pakistan has repeatedly denied the presence of the ISIS on its soil.

It however has acknowledged the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan as a point of concern.

When contacted, the officials at the police station said that the police was investigating the matter.

It had yet to register a case till the filing of this report. No arrest has so far been made in this connection, the police said. http://nation.com.pk/national/25-Sep-2017/islamic-state-flag-spotted-at-islamabad-bridge

September 25, 2017   No Comments

First Trump, then China: as Pakistan loses support it should lose the pretence on cross-border too

By Tom Hussain in South China Morning Post, Sept 9, 2017
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist and Pakistan affairs analyst
In 1992, when Pakistan first came under international diplomatic pressure to halt terrorist attacks on India emanating from its territory, Islamabad’s chief diplomat and the architect of its modern-day strategic alliance with China, Akram Zaki, told me: “Pakistan’s foreign policy is in a minefield without a map”. It still is.

By naming Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the declaration issued at the end of the BRICS leaders meeting in Xiamen on Monday, China has publicly reminded its all-weather ally that the time has come for it to put an end to its relationships with non-state actors.

Coming two weeks after US President Donald Trump issued a humiliating ultimatum to Islamabad, and ahead of a diplomatic support-seeking tour of Beijing, Moscow, Ankara and Tehran by Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif, the timing and multilateral context of the message is definitive.

China may be working overtime to help Pakistan negotiate a way out of a diplomatic dead end, in part to protect its multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” investments, but the onus is on Islamabad to come to terms with the changing realities of Asian geopolitics.

The most daunting challenge for Pakistan is to come to terms with the folly of a self-defeating narrative which paints Afghanistan and India as bigger sponsors of cross-border terror than itself.

While there is considerable truth to the Pakistani assertion that dirty wars are being waged against each other by most states with a stake in the “Great Game” in Afghanistan, two wrongs do not make a right. Besides, China has stayed above the fray, making its growing role as a neutral arbiter acceptable to all.

Nor does it help Pakistan that its almighty military leaders refuse to allow a constructive introspection of their dubious policies. They reacted vindictively when leading English-language newspaper Dawn last October cited Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry as telling a meeting of civil and military leaders that China had “indicated a preference for a change in course” of Pakistan’s handling of jihadist groups.

Rather than heed Chaudhry’s advice, the military accused the government of conspiring to humiliate it and forced then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to sack Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed for leaking the story. The newspaper was vilified as “anti-state” and social media activists critical of the military were disappeared and allegedly tortured.

They were painted as traitors and blasphemers, making them vulnerable to assassination by extremists.

But it’s one thing to force a narrative down the throats of a captive domestic audience, another to expect foreign governments, friendly or otherwise, to buy into one.

In the aftermath of the Trump ultimatum, Pakistan misinterpreted Chinese statements of moral support as unconditional backing for its untenable diplomatic position. Pakistanis were even led to believe China’s diplomatic backing would render the country immune to feared acts of American retribution for Taliban and Haqqani network attacks planned on Pakistani soil.

The falsehood of the narrative was exposed by the Xiamen declaration because its wording, rather than being a sudden change of China’s position, was a facsimile of the statement signed last December by all the participants of an India-hosted round of the “Heart of Asia” multilateral conference on Afghanistan, including China and Pakistan.

The subsequent “rejection” of the BRICS declaration by Pakistani Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan on Tuesday was another bizarre example of how denial is undermining the credibility of Islamabad’s position.

Foreign Minister Asif did well to limit the damage by countering that Pakistan should “put its own house in order rather than embarrassing its friends”.

At the heart of it all lies Pakistan’s refusal to acknowledge cross-border terrorist activity continues to be conducted from its territory. This is emblematic of the country’s lack of leadership, which is the product of the deep internal divisions created by incessant bickering between competing arms of the state.

Time and again, terrorist groups have exploited these divisions at great cost to Pakistan. The Haqqani network faction of the Afghan Taliban was largely responsible for prolonging the Pakistani Taliban insurgency in the northwest Waziristan tribal regions bordering eastern Afghanistan, described by the Obama administration as the epicentre of global terrorism. Ultimately, Pakistan had to deploy a third of its standing military to overcome them.

In turn, Afghanistan-focused militants and Pakistani Taliban insurgents have drawn support from anti-India groups in eastern Punjab province, such as Jaish-i-Mohammed and Jamaat-ud-Dawah. They cynically camouflage their terrorist credentials by posing as patriots fighting against India, whereas they have long been part of al-Qaeda’s network. Members of the groups helped Osama bin Laden take refuge in Abbottabad, where he was killed by US special forces in May 2011.

Pakistan’s decisionmakers would do well to revisit the recommendations made by an army task force of three army colonels in 1990 to disarm militants returning from the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation.

They were overruled and had to bear the brunt of the fateful decision. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani went on to serve as Pakistan’s army chief of staff for six years at the height of the Taliban insurgency. As chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, Tariq Majid had to endure the kidnapping of his son-in-law by terrorists. Both foresaw that jihadis would undermine the legitimacy of Pakistan’s campaign against Indian rule in disputed Kashmir, the centrepiece of its foreign policy. Pakistan’s present army chief of staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, now faces a similar choice. www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2110392/first-trump-then-china-pakistan-loses-support-it-should-lose

September 24, 2017   No Comments

India ‘not responsible’ for Pak-Afghan tensions, says diplomat

By Asad Zia in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2017.
PESHAWAR: The Afghan consul general in Peshawar has said that India is not responsible for failing relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Speaking at a seminar on Afghanistan International Day on Saturday, Dr Abdul Waheed Poyan said “Pakistan believes India harbours militants in Afghanistan” to destabilise its western border.

“But it is just their perception and is not true. Our relations with India have nothing to do with the Pak-Afghan relationship,” he said at the seminar organised by Regional Forum for Peace and Development at the Peshawar Press Club.

The consul general went on to say that Afghanistan, like the rest of the world intended to and had the right to maintain cordial relations with all its neighbours. “We want to have good relations with all neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan, and we respect advice from them, not directions,” he said.

Poyan stressed the need for every citizen from both countries to play their role in maintaining inter-country relations and use their interpersonal contacts and play a positive role, instead of just depending on their politicians.

He added that maintaining peace in this region “is the need of the hour and keeping the same in mind it is pertinent for Afghanistan to have functioning relationships with all its neighbours”.

The Afghan envoy described the Pak-Afghan relations as much stronger than those shared by other countries and said that both the countries should work together to resolve issues and eliminate cross-border tensions.

“Pakistan and Afghanistan have shared history and culture, while both the countries’ people want peace. Terrorism has negatively affected the culture of both,” he said.

Committing to joint efforts for achieving sustainability and peace might help dissipate the mistrust between the two countries, he suggested. The seminar was attended by well-known Pashto poets, activists, students and politicians.

September 24, 2017   No Comments

US mulling dropping Pakistan as an ally: UK publication

report i n the Express Tribune, Sept 16, 2017
The Trump administration is considering dropping Pakistan as an ally as it examines tough measures to quell more than 20 terrorist groups it says are based in the country, a UK publication had reported.

Financial Times reported that officials familiar with the Pakistan prong of Washington’s new “AfPak” strategy — which involves an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan and praise for India — say it has yet to be fleshed out. But they have plenty of levers.

President Donald Trump last month promised to get tough on Pakistan, accusing it of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting”.

The administration has already put $255 million in military aid on hold after Trump announced the policy shift. It is eyeing an escalating series of threats, which include cutting some civilian aid, conducting unilateral drone strikes on Pakistani soil and imposing travel bans on officers of the ISI, the country’s intelligence agency.

It could also revoke Pakistan’s status as a major non-Nato ally or designate it a state sponsor of terrorism. The latter options would limit weapons sales and probably affect billions of dollars in IMF and World Bank loans, along with access to global finance.

Relations are expected to take a further blow from US efforts to forge closer ties with rival India.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said this week it was “unfair” to blame his country for troubles in Afghanistan, adding that the US should have greater respect for its efforts to combat militancy. Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Pakistan in the wake of 9/11, says Pakistan resents the wild oscillations in support from the US.

“They went from our most allied of allies to our most sanctioned of sanctioned,” he said, recalling that the US worked with Pakistan to defeat Soviet Russia during the 1980s Afghanistan invasion but, once it had won, cut aid and imposed sanctions over its emergent nuclear programme. “Their narrative about us is here today, gone tomorrow and it has deeply affected their strategic thinking.” https://tribune.com.pk/story/1508324/us-mulling-dropping-pakistan-ally-uk-publication/

September 18, 2017   No Comments

Torkham border crossing closed after twin blasts

by Ibrahim Shinwari in Dawn, September 16th, 2017
LANDI KOTAL: Six security personnel and three civilians were injured in two grenade attacks near the Pak-Afghan border crossing at Torkham on Friday.

The border crossing was immediately closed to traffic and pedestrian movement following the twin blasts, which were carried out from the Afghan side of the border, said officials.

Khyber Agency Political Agent Khalid Mehmud told Dawn that footage of closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) installed at Torkham confirmed that two grenades were hurled by unidentified men from across the Afghan border.

“One of the grenades exploded at the Frontier Corps (FC) centre close to the border’s zero-point, while the other landed on the main road nearby,” he said, adding that six FC men and three civilians, including a child, were injured.

Mr Mehmud said the injuries were not of serious nature and four of the victims were discharged from the hospital after medical assistance.

The injured FC personnel were identified as Lance Naik Amanullah and sepoys Salman Ali, Lateef, Abdul Jalal, Zia and Faheemullah.

Names of the injured civilians could not be known, but it was learned that an Afghan national on the other side of the border was also injured in the attacks.

The Torkham border security officials imposed a curfew at the border and surrounding areas while restricting movement of Afghans to Peshawar and other cities.

Political Agent Mehmud, Commandant of Khyber Rifles Col Farrukh Humayun and other security and administrative officials reached Torkham to oversee security arrangements at the border.

Following the twin grenade blasts, officials of both countries held a brief meeting in which they agreed to take tough security measures to prevent cross-border attacks in future.

The Afghan officials were informed about the possible involvement of Afghan nationals in the attacks as was revealed in the CCTV footage.

Officials said a decision regarding reopening of the border would be taken on Saturday (today) after consultations with higher authorities in Islamabad. https://www.dawn.com/news/1358050/torkham-border-crossing-closed-after-twin-blasts

September 16, 2017   No Comments

US conduct first airstrike in Pakistan after new strategy declaration

By Khaama Press – Sat Sep 16 2017, 11:07 am
At least three Afghan Taliban members were killed in an airstrike in the tribal regions of Pakistan in what appears to be the first US drone strike after the announcement of the new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.

According to the local officials, the airstrike was carried out in the vicinity of Kurram Agency in the tribal regions of the country.

The officials further added that an unmanned aerial vehicle fired missiles on a gathering of the Taliban insurgents.

According to the officials, at least three of the militants were killed and two others were wounded in the attack.

The identities of those killed in the airstrike have not been ascertained so far with the Taliban group yet to comment regarding the raid.

This comes as the Afghan and US officials have long been criticizing Islamabad for remaining reckless to act against the Taliban and Haqqani terrorist network sanctuaries as they claim that the leadership councils of the two groups are based in the key cities of Pakistan from where they plan and coordinate attacks in Afghanistan, including some of the deadly attacks on US forces.

While announcing the new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia last month, the US President Donald Trump strongly criticized Pakistan regarding the terror sanctuaries, saying “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict. And that could happen.” www.khaama.com/us-conduct-first-airstrike-in-pakistan-after-new-strategy-declaration-03449

September 16, 2017   No Comments

Flour mill was being used as Daesh HQ: report in The News, Sept 12, 2017

PESHAWAR: A flour mill in the suburbs of the provincial capital where two key militants were killed during an encounter in June was functioning as the headquarters of Daesh for the last many months, a source said.

A top commander of the group Khalil and one of his accomplices were killed while five security personnel were wounded in the encounter. Police and army had jointly carried out the operation.

The source said the group was involved in the killing of three policemen in Chamkani a few days before the operation. Police in retaliation had killed one attacker in Chamkani incident, who was later identified as militant commander Mustafa.

The source said that the flour mill that had been abandoned for the last 15 years was also being used for issuing press releases and other literature of Daesh. Police killed three members of the ring in two actions while many facilitators were also held. Police had also held the owners of the mill for negligence on their part. They were, however, later released on bail.

According to senior police officers, the group was involved in around 20 target killings of police and other security personnel as well as other major terrorism incidents in the last couple of years.

The watchman of the flour mills who was using it for militant activities was arrested by the Counter-Terrorism Department a couple of years back from where he was
sent to Central Prison Peshawar. Days before the June operation, the watchman was deported to Afghanistan after imposing a fine of Rs5,000 on completion of his sentence.https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/229271-Flour-mill-was-being-used-as-Daesh-HQ

September 12, 2017   No Comments

Facilitating peace process in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s national interest

by Raza Rumi in Daily Times, September 10th 2017
The writer is editor, Daily Times.
During his election campaign, President Trump had vowed to end the foreign wars and redirect the resources towards domestic needs such as infrastructure development. He seems to have reversed his position by announcing that more troops will be sent to win the war. In his speech, Trump was tough on Pakistan accusing it of providing havens to ‘terrorists’ who kill US soldiers. He also asked India, a rising South Asian power, for assistance in resolving the Afghanistan imbroglio. In essence, President Trump has introduced another layer of uncertainty in the Afghan conflict.

Fifteen years after Operation Enduring Freedom commenced, the Taliban in Afghanistan remain a formidable force and no solution of Afghanistan’s future can discount their role. The Afghan government — propped up by the US as part of its state building project — does not have control over nearly half the territory of the country. The Cost of Wars Project at Brown University has estimated that the US has spent nearly $5 trillion wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. Afghanistan alone has consumed $2 trillion. And this is a conservative estimate, as it does not include the cost of money borrowed or what will be spent on the veterans. Thousands of American soldiers have also died in this conflict.

Aside from the rhetoric of enduring freedom and exporting democracy, the real issue here is how the war machine influences US foreign policy. No other country spends more on defense than the US; and the mainstream media has been a cheerleader if not a participant in these war ambitions.

Trump’s ‘strategy’ is hardly a new strategy. President Obama also employed his infamous surge in 2009, which did not yield any tangible results. It is easier to blame Pakistan for sabotaging the US goals than to admit that from the very start the notion of occupying, restructuring and democratising a complex country was not the best of ideas.

Pakistan has been a frontline ally of the United States since the 1950s. From Cold War to the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s to the war on terror, Pakistan has executed American foreign policy and security goals in exchange for billions of dollars in military and civilian assistance. In the case of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security goals are not in sync with that of the US. The key reason for this is the rivalry with India. Pakistan fears that India may gain influence in Afghanistan and therefore it might be encircled by a hostile power on its eastern and western borders. For years, Pakistan has been tolerant, if not outright supportive, of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. And this is the key cause for current fissures in Pak-US relations.

President Trump’s speech was not received well in Pakistan. Civilian and military leaders decided to commence an inter-agency review of Pakistan-US relationship, the Afghan war and Pakistan’s engagement with the Kabul government. The visit of Assistant Secretary of State was postponed at Pakistan’s request. An emergency Envoys Conference was convened by Foreign Office. Its recommendations have been sent to National Security Committee to formulate a new foreign and security policy.

A key reason for Pakistan’s defiance is the deepening of the country’s ties with China investing at least $55 billion in Pakistan as part of its One Belt One Road project. China and India — both growing economies with huge defense capabilities — are rivals for power in Asia. Many observers view the US strategic alliance with India as a counterweight to Chinese influence. Trump’s invitation for India to play a role in Afghanistan has irked Pakistan’s military. In fact, pitting the nuclear neighbours against each other spells escalation of conflict in South Asia.

The truth is that diplomatic engagement is needed at a time when there is no Special Representative of USG for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hundreds of positions in State Department are lying vacant. Trump’s strategy is largely militaristic. While the US has officially stated that it wants to support a process of reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban militia, it is unclear how this will happen given the increased war rhetoric.The silver lining is that American media have highlighted the pitfalls of Trump’s approach. This is not the time to send more soldiers but to wrap up a protracted war through diplomatic and political means.

Pakistan’s policy response should not be emotional as a hurt [soon to be former] ally. The US remains a key destination for our exports, a considerable source of remittances and there are hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who live in America. Repairing Pak-US relations therefore should be a priority. Three important considerations need to inform our policy direction. First, expanding our allies in Afghanistan and strengthening diplomatic engagement with the US and Afghanistan. Why must jihadist militias be our only hope for influence? After the recent BRICS declaration this becomes even more urgent. Secondly, we should accept that India will have a relationship with any future Afghan government and that it is no longer possible to have a Taliban style government loyal to Pakistan’s India-centric vision. The India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan must end. Thirdly, it is time for Pakistan’s civil society and parliament to explore how can we reimagine ourselves as world’s trade hub rather than a revisionist state stuck in twentieth century regional conflicts. In this day and age, economic growth and prosperity define national power rather than the readiness for war. For this very reason, facilitating a peace process — as promised by the former Army Chief — is in Pakistan’s national interest.http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/10-Sep-17/facilitating-peace-process-in-afghanistan-is-in-pakistans-national-interest

September 10, 2017   No Comments

Dossier Dance: edit in The Nation, September 10, 2017

According to reports, Pakistan is set to present its case to the United States counting the country’s sacrifices in the ongoing war against terror.Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif will carry a record with him when he meets his US counterpart Rex Tillerson in the coming days.We have done the dossier dance many times before.It does not work at the UN, it will not work with the US administration.The foreign policy machine needs a total overhaul- one that makes sure that Pakistan can develop a strong lobby in the US to influence legislators, and one that makes sure that our denials of sheltering the Haqqani network and actually having “safe havens” for militants are back by hard truthIf the US is too aggressive, the Pakistani leadership is also in denial about the presence of crooked characters on our soil.
If the US has picked the wrong partner in India, we are not in good company either with the Haqqanis.

It is constantly claimed that we needed to project our achievements.However, a state official with a dossier in this arm will not project anything.Diplomacy is far more that official visits.We need to constantly have eyes on what goes on at Capitol Hill, which Senator or Representative can be approached and how Indian propaganda can be countered.

Two diplomatic disasters in 2016, the US refusal to subsidise an F-16 deal and the Obama administration’s campaign to induct India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had forced Pakistan to look for a paid lobbyist in the US capital since 2013.US Justice Department records show that the last law firm to lobby for Pakistan in Washington was Locke Lord Strategies.Pakistan failed to renew its contract with the firm in July 2013, about a month after PML-N replaced PPP in the government in Islamabad.This fact itself is appalling and shows how unstrategic and lethargic our Foreign Affairs team is.Further, reports suggest that the law firm was ineffective in lobbying the US media for Pakistan as it was in lobbying Congress.We need not just a professional lobbyist, but actual Pakistani’s settled in the US to speak for us and make contact with US lawmakers.

In comparison, the India lobby is large, well funded, and organised.The Indian lobby is backed by private financial resources.The United States India Political Action Committee is a political action committee based in Washingdon DC.Since 2002 it has been working closely with Indian-American organisations to promote the India perspective on legal immigration, counter-terrorism, religious freedom, and trade.This is just important one Indian organisations in the US among many that have actually impacted US legislation.
We only seem to have an embassy, and now Mr Khawaja Asif off to the US with a list. http://nation.com.pk/editorials/10-Sep-2017/dossier-dance

September 10, 2017   No Comments