PPP came close to PTI after rejection of demands: Nisar

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Friday triggered a new war of words between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party by saying that rejection by the ruling party of conditions set by the latter to support the government had prompted it to get close to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

Speaking at a press conference, the minister said the PPP wanted withdrawal of a case against model Ayyan Ali, who had been caught attempting to smuggle Rs50 million out of the country, and help in securing bail for former president Asif Ali Zardari’s aide Dr Asim Hussain, who is facing charges of terror financing and corruption.

Without disclosing the name of a PPP leader who he claimed had proposed the ‘confidence-building measures’ (CBMs), Chaudhry Nisar said he had been told that Dr Hussain’s case was with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but it was pointed out that the prosecutor general had been appointed during the present government’s term.

He asked the PPP leadership to reveal the nature of its link with Ms Ali and said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had evidence of money going from the same bank account for purchase of air tickets for her and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

In Karachi, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah reacted strongly over the minister’s remarks.

Talking to reporters, he said that Chaudhry Nisar’s words reflected a “mental sickness” and called upon the prime minister to take notice of the statement of his key man in the cabinet to prove his impartiality in the growing tense relations between the government and the opposition.

“The irony is that whenever there is a terrorist incident, you would never find Chaudhry Nisar around as he goes missing somewhere. But when it comes to levelling allegations and sabotaging the political atmosphere you would find him leading from the front. I think the prime minister should take notice of his remarks. This is so unfortunate.”

The interior minister also talked about the $60 million frozen by Swiss banks and released after a letter written to the European country’s authorities by the then attorney general, wondering where the money had gone. He raised the issue of ownership of the Surrey mansion in the United Kingdom, three palaces in Dubai and a precious diamond necklace.

Without naming senior PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, he also talked about the issuance of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) quota.

Chaudhry Nisar held the opposition leaders in both houses of parliament responsible for the acrimony between the PML-N and PPP. “I have never said how a meter reader has prospered so much,” he said in the the most blistering attack against Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah.

He said an opposition leader was supposed to be against the government, but the one in the National Assembly had chosen him as a target, calling that this was because of his statements about the country’s security, remarks against India and point-blank refusal to become a “part or tool of corruption”.

National Action Plan

Chaudhry Nisar said work on four points of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism had been progressing at a fast pace from the very beginning. He said 10 of the plan’s points related to the provinces and the rest were in the domain of the ministries of finance, defence, religious affairs and states and frontier regions.

He said the graph of terrorism had gone down to below one-fourth and terrorists were on the run.

The minister said about 20,000 intelligence-based operations had been carried out during the past two years and thousands of terrorist attacks had been pre-empted.

He said 2,000 terrorist attacks took place across the country in 2009-10, while this year the number was below 200.

Saarc meeting

He said his recent retort to the visiting Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh who had levelled allegations against Pakistan had been hailed by almost all the opposition parties, but “one party had remained silent “. He said the Indian minister could have responded to his remarks again but he chose not to do so. He left, skipping the lunch and the last session of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s interior ministers’ conference.

Mr Singh, however, spoke in his country’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, where he said that Pakistan was not ready to learn a lesson, he said.

Chaudhry Nisar said Mr Singh had not explained the nature of the lesson India wanted to teach Pakistan, but if it wanted Pakistan to accept its hegemony and continued brutalities against the innocent Kashmiris, it was unacceptable.

Rejecting claims that every Indian prime minister had talked about peace, he recalled that a premier of the country had attacked Pakistan in 1965, another had broken it up in 1971 and the incumbent took credit for Pakistan’s dismemberment.

He said the decision to set aside United Nations resolutions and forcibly occupy a bulk of Kashmir had also been taken by an Indian prime minister in 1948.

“You are the one who launch attacks, hurl threats and close the doors for talks,” he said.

Chaudhry Nisar said the solution to the problems lay in talks and he had offered dialogue to India even during the Saarc meeting.

He said the Indian minister had stated that he did not want to see his Pakistani counterpart.

He justified protest by Kashmiris the day Mr Singh arrived here, saying that it was a civilised protest against Indian oppression in India-held Kashmir, staged in a democratic country where nobody’s face had been blackened.

He said he was not the host of the lunch during the Saarc conference that he had to skip because of an important meeting at the Prime Minister House. He said he was the host of the dinner that evening, which he had attended.

US national

About a blacklisted United States national, Matthew Barrett, Chaudhry Nisar said he had been informed by the Prime Minister’s Special of Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi that the visa had been issued to him because of a computer mistake.

He said he had been asking for three days for the visa application form and had received the reply on Thursday. The applicant had not replied to many questions and other mistakes in the form had also been overlooked by a senior officer, showing gross irregularity in issuing the visa.

The minister said the report of a joint investigation team (JIT) suggested that there was no evidence available to prove that he was a spy but he had been deported five years back on the charge of involvement in dubious activities.

In the light of the JIT report, Mr Barrett would be deported, he said.

He said he had sought a report from the Federal Investigation Agency within a week, proposing measures to stop recurrence of immigration clearance of any blacklisted individual.

Chaudhry Nisar said 31.2 million computerised national identity cards had been verified in 40 days. He said 30,000 intruders registered in the family trees of others had been detected. He said 58,000 calls had been made by citizens, leading to blocking of 5,000 CNICs.

He disclosed that over a dozen foreign nationals had surrendered their fake Pakistani identity cards.

Answering a question, he said there are no groups within the PML-N, but there were some people trying to poison the party’s leadership against him and they were being watched by him.

He also said that some important arrests had been made two days ago in connection with the recent bomb attack in Quetta. He said the Balochistan government had sent fingerprints for identification, but they were of a victim from Pishin.

Our Staff Reporter in Karachi adds: Opposition leader Khurshid Shah reacted strongly over the minister’s remarks, calling his words reflection of a “mental sickness” and demanding that the prime minister take notice of the statement of his key man in the cabinet to prove his impartiality in the recent growing tense relations between the government and the opposition.

“These are reflective of a sick mind,” the PPP leader said while talking to reporters.

“The irony is that whenever there is a terrorist incident, you would never find Chaudhry Nisar as he goes missing somewhere. But when it comes to levelling false allegations and sabotaging the political atmosphere you would find him leading from the front. I think the prime minister should take notice of his remarks. This is so unfortunate.”

IS claims Quetta bomb attack that ‘targeted’ judge

QUETTA: The militant Islamic State (IS) group said Friday it was behind a roadside bomb that injured 13 people in Quetta, the SITE Intelligence Group said, days after a major attack in the city killed 73.

The latest explosion on a bridge in the city on Thursday injured four police personnel and nine passers-by, in an attack apparently targeting a judge.

Site reported that the IS group claimed the attack on its Telegram channel, al-Bayan Radio and Twitter.

The attack came just days after a suicide bombing at a hospital on Monday also claimed by the IS killed 73 people, most of them senior lawyers gathered to mourn a colleague gunned down earlier in the day.

Police and rescue officials at the scene of the blast on Zarghon Road, Thursday. ─ DawnNews screengrab
Police and rescue officials at the scene of the blast on Zarghon Road, Thursday. screengrab

Quetta has been plagued by roiling insurgencies and hit by regular militant attacks in the past few months.

Lawyers are among the only people shining a spotlight on the province’s many problems and have come under frequent attack.

Monday’s bombing was also claimed by the Jamaatul Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban and analysts have been unclear on whose claim was more credible.

IS militants have been struggling to gain a foothold in Pakistan, facing competition from well-established extremist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban.

COAS expresses dismay over slow NAP execution

ISLAMABAD: As the military launched its first combing operations in Punjab targeting the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif publicly vented frustration on Friday over the government’s poor progress on the National Action Plan against terrorism. He said the military’s gains during Operation Zarb-i-Azb were being lost.

“The National Action Plan is central to achievements of our objectives and its lack of progress is affecting the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-i-Azb,” he said at a special security meeting at the General Headquarters. The meeting was attended by Inter-Services Intelligence Director General Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, 10 Corps Commander Lt Gen Malik Zafar Iqbal and principal staff officers.

The army chief’s blunt criticism, which came a day after civilian and military leaders held two-day deliberations on NAP’s sluggish performance, reflected the disappointment within the armed forces over the government’s response to their reservations over the plan’s implementation.

Combing operations launched in Rawalpindi district

The military’s dissatisfaction with the government’s performance in combating terrorism and extremism is no secret, but it is the second time that the army chief has publicly expressed his discontentment over the state of affairs since NAP was initiated in December 2014. The last time he did so was at a corps commanders conference in November last year, where he reminded the government of the need for “matching governance initiatives” and cautioned that without them the effects of the military’s ‘kinetic operations’ could be undermined.

His remarks had riled the political leadership and both the government and opposition angrily reacted.

The message this time was no different.

“Unless all prongs deliver meaningfully and all inadequacies are addressed, remnants of terrorism would continue to simmer and long-term peace and stability would remain a distant dream,” the general warned.

The military’s concerns, according to an insider, relate to uncertain future of the Protection of Pakistan Act under which special courts had been established, a major counterterrorism legislation that expired last month; the political leadership’s reluctance to allow special powers for Rangers in both Punjab and Sindh; issues concerning preventive detention of suspects for inquiry; poor prosecution of cases of terrorism; lack of progress on Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and madressah (seminary) reforms; problems with raising of new Frontier Corps wings in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; lack of focus on capacity building of civilian law enforcement agencies; and allocation of required funds for countering terrorism.

The army chief briefed the meeting about the discussions he had held with the civilian leaders during the two-day-long review session.

The upshot of the civil-military deliberations was a decision to set up a task force for overseeing the implementation of NAP. But the military seems dissatisfied with the decision because of an unclear hierarchy and timeline for action by the new body.

“Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to wait,” an officer aware of the sense in the military said.

The military has further been upset over critical comments by some politicians after the recent Quetta bomb attack and an unending controversy over the future of the army chief, who is set to retire in November.

“Any distracting and inciting comments and theories by some quarters are unhelpful and undermining the overall national effort,” Gen Sharif told the generals.

The resentment within the military’s top brass over the criticism by politicians, particularly by the Pakhtun­khwa Milli Awami Party’s chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s leader Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, was forcefully conveyed to the government during the review meeting. The government then defended the performance of the military and intelligence agencies in the National Assembly and this was also included in a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office at the conclusion of the NAP meeting.

But that seemingly has not been enough to pacify the military, which believes that it is being unjustly criticised.

Combing operations

The military, meanwhile, for the first time started combing operations in Punjab by raiding terrorist hideouts in Rawalpindi district’s Kallar Sayedan and Gujar Khan areas.

The TTP’s splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, which has been behind some of the most gruesome attacks in the country and claimed this week’s Quetta bombing, was targeted in the raids.

According to the ISPR, the military’s public relations wing, six terrorists, including two ‘important militant commanders’, were held and a cache of arms and ammunition, including prepared improvised explosive devices, seized.

The countrywide combing operations, involving large-scale troop deployment, were approved by the military in May after the completion of kinetic operations in North Waziristan.

The new operations are aimed at busting terrorist sleeper cells and eliminating hiding terrorists.

The Punjab government has, however, apparently remained averse to special military-led operations in the province. In that respect the start of the operations in Punjab are being seen as significant by analysts.

Gen Sharif had ordered at a corps commanders meeting this week intensification of the combing operations by expanding their scope and spread. Troops were allowed to go after the terrorists everywhere in the country.