‘Exercise’ fuels Indo-Pak escalation fears, drives stocks down

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Despite official insistence that the activities had been planned in advance, Wednesday’s closure of airspace over the country’s northern areas and flights by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter planes participating in exercises fuelled rumours that the country’s armed forces were preparing for a possible Indian attack, driving the stock market down.

The exercises, coming at a time when tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours are running high following a terrorist attack on a military camp in India-held Kashmir, drove speculation on social and mainstream media.

Despite the confusion, Inter-Services Public Relations and the PAF’s media directorate chose to keep mum and the official silence only fuelled rumour mills.

Talking to Dawn, a senior military official rejected the reports about any change in the alert level over the past few days. However, he noted that “extreme vigilance” was being exercised in view of the current threats from India. It is expected that official details about the exercises will be released in the coming days.

But following official announcements regarding the closure of airspace over the northern areas and the M1 and M2 motorways, even private TV channels began airing reports hinting at the possibility that these measures were being taken in response to the potential threat of surgical strikes by India, as possible retaliation for the Uri camp attack that left 18 soldiers dead.

Airspace, motorway closure for PAF’s ‘Highmark’ drives speculation on social, mainstream media

Talking about the fighter planes landing on the motorway, the military official said this was part of a routine training exercise, ‘Highmark’. Usually held every five years, this exercise is one of the largest undertakings by the PAF and requires months of advance planning.

Due to the closure of airspace, PIA flights from Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu had also been cancelled. A top PIA official told Dawn that a ‘Notice to Airmen’ (NOTAMS) had been issued three days ago, informing about the airspace closure at different times on Sept 21, 22 and 24 due to the exercise.

The closure of the M1 and M2 motorways at multiple points — between Kala Shah Kaku and Sheikhupura/Gujranwala on the M2 and near Peshawar-Nowshera — was announced by National Highways and Motorway Police (NHMP) through a press release issued a day earlier, but the reason for the close was attributed to “construction work”.

Falling stocks

The over-flights by jets participating in the PAF drills also fuelled speculation that caused a sharp decline in the stock market, with the KSE-100 benchmark index dropping a massive 569 points to close at 39,771 points.

As small investors ran for cover, the market fell by 1.41pc, wiping out gains netted in the month of September. Banks, companies and mutual funds remained stable, but panic selling was triggered by individual small investors, who were dabbling in “penny stocks” that usually generated the biggest volumes in the market.

Former Karachi Stock Exchange chairman Arif Habib blamed the tumbling stocks on the hype created by the electronic media about tensions between Pakistan and India, which gave the impression that a confrontation was imminent.

But Mr Habib also pointed out that the market had been on a long bullish run, and that with the KSE-100 index crossing the 40,000-point level, a correction was due.

Border tensions

Certain media outlets also broadcast reports claiming that Indian troops had been moved to forward locations.

Ever since India adopted the cold-start doctrine, troops that used to be stationed 800-1,000km from the LoC and Working Boundary have now moved to a proximity of around 200-250km. According to a defence analyst, this implied that India’s war-time troop locations from 2005-06 were now their regular deployment zones.

“No further movement has been observed,” a military official disclosed, adding that Indian troops had already been in a state of mobilisation.

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, chairing a corps commanders meeting earlier this week, had expressed satisfaction over the military’s “operational preparedness” and vowed to thwart all sinister designs against the country’s sovereignty and integrity.

Dilawar Hussain in Karachi also contributed to this report.


Leaks reveal another 150 Pakistanis own offshore firms

KARACHI: After the names of 259 Pakistanis with links to offshore companies surfaced in one of the world’s biggest-ever data called the Panama Papers in May, another cache of leaked documents emerged on Wednesday carrying the names of 150 Pakistanis who own companies in the Bahamas, a constellation of over 700 islands.

The data shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ) with its media partners is originally obtained and released by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In a statement, the ICIJ said that new “revelations”, published by the consortium, Süddeutsche Zeitung and news organisations in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, revealed fresh information about offshore companies in the Bahamas.

Alongside detailed reporting, the ICIJ, Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media partners are making details from the Bahamas corporate registry available to the public. This creates, for the first time, a free, online and publicly-searchable database of offshore companies set up in the island nation that has sometimes been called “The Switzerland of the West”, the statement said.

“We see it as a service to the public to make this basic kind of information openly available,” the statement quoted ICIJ director Gerard Ryle as saying. “There is much evidence to suggest that where you have secrecy in the offshore world you have the potential for wrong doing. So let’s eliminate the secrecy.”

A brief detail shared by different media sources suggested that about 150 Pakistanis have been identified as directors of nearly 70 companies, out of 175,000 firms incorporated in the Bahamas between 1959 and 2016.

Among the Pakistanis, Jibran Khan, son of former federal minister Mohammad Naseer Khan, has been named in the ‘Bahamas leaks’, while the name of former Jamaat-i-Islami senator Professor Khursheed Ahmad is also found in the fresh data as director of a registered bank in Miami.

Obaid Altaf Khanani, Samina Durrani and Karachi-based builder Mohsin Sheikhani also own offshore companies.

Pakistan not to accept one-sided nuclear restrictions

UNITED NATIONS: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has informed world leaders that his country will not accept one-sided restrictions on its nuclear programme, as international media continued to speculate over whether or not Pakistan and India were moving towards a war.

“The prime minister has reiterated Pakistan’s stance; one-sided restraint will not work. India’s cold start doctrine should also be contained,” Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi told a news briefing in New York.

“Any restriction has to be bilateral. We told the US to use their influence on India to make them do what you ask us to do,” said Ms Lodhi when asked if US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the prime minister to consider ‘nuclear restraint’ when the two leaders met in New York on Monday.

A US State Department press release said that Mr Sharif and Secretary Kerry “stressed the need for restraint in nuclear weapons programmes”.

No indicators yet to suggest war with India is imminent, says foreign secretary

The Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons came under the spotlight this week when reports in the media suggested that India might launch air strikes on alleged terrorists inside Pakistan. The reports claimed that India began “seriously considering” the option after a militant attack on a military base in India-held Kashmir killed 17 soldiers.

Some commentators suggested that the so-called “cold-start doctrine”, that is, hitting Pakistani installations before Pakistan retaliates to an Indian military strike, gave India a strategic advantage over Pakistan. But others warned that Pakistan had countered the advantage by developing tactical nuclear weapons.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asian affairs expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, reminded India that it might be premature to point the finger at Pakistan.

“One can’t rule out the possibility that Kashmiri militants, seeking revenge for the brutal tactics of the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, pulled off the operation,” he wrote.

He warned that “despite full-throated pleas from some Indian hawks” to launch air strikes inside Pakistan, “it is not an option, thanks to the nuclear weapons issue”.

He warned that “even punitive measures short of all-out war — such as targeted air strikes on terrorist facilities — would be prohibitively risky”.

But in an interview to the Indian media, another US scholar, Christine Fair of the Georgetown University, said that India shouldn’t exercise restraint fearing nuclear reprisal from Pakistan.

Ms Fair, who is an expert on India-Pakistan relations, argued that India’s nuclear arsenal should “give it immunity and impunity” to launch punitive strikes. “If Indian troops transgress into a populated city like Sialkot or Lahore, Pakistan will suffer more fatalities than on Indian troops. Therefore, this battlefield calculation gives India a lot of wriggle room to retaliate than to exercise restraint,” she said.

However, Ajai Shukla, a former Indian army colonel who is now the strategic affairs editor of the Business Standard, told CNN that India was “not strategically prepared” to launch an attack.

“One also cannot ignore the fact that Pakistan has the 11th biggest army in the world,” he said. “We’re in a symmetrical relationship. The consequences of any form of attack are far worse than people realise.”

The question that everybody at Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Dr Lodhi’s news briefing wanted answered was: are India and Pakistan going to war?

Mr Chaudhry told the reporters that so far he had seen “no indicators” to suggest that a war was imminent. He claimed that India was encouraging such rumours to divert attention from the atrocities it was committing in held Kashmir.

The foreign secretary advised the Pakistani media not to see Tuesday’s telephonic conversation between Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and the prime minister as “anything more than what it was, a routine consultation between civil and military leaderships”.

Mr Chaudhry said that while US President Barack Obama did not mention the Kashmir issue in his speech, Pakistan had kept the American side fully informed about the developments in the Valley.

“We believe that the US has a responsibility [to defuse the situation] and should play its role. We will keep asking US until they play that role; when and how, only they can decide,” he said.

Nawaz at UNGA: Pakistan wants peace with India, urges resolution of Kashmir issue

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while addressing the United Nations General Assembly session on Wednesday, said Pakistan wants peace with India but maintained it is “not possible without resolving the Kashmir issue”.

“Confrontation should not be our destiny in South Asia. Pakistan wants peace with India.”

Nawaz asserted that peace cannot be established in South Asia without resolving the Kashmir issue.

The premier reiterated Pakistan’s stance of resolving the issue of Kashmir through dialogue with India and said Pakistan has “gone the extra mile to achieve this”.

The prime minister said a new generation of Kashmiris has started a freedom struggle against India.

“Burhan Wani, the young leader murdered by Indian forces has emerged as the symbol of the latest Kashmiri intifada, a popular and peaceful freedom movement lead by Kashmiris, young and old, men and women, armed only with an undying faith and the legitimacy of their cause and the hunger for freedom in their hearts.”

“This indigenous uprising of the Kashmiris has been met, as usual, with brutal repression by India’s occupation force of over half a million soldiers,” said Nawaz.

The prime minister added that over a hundred Kashmiris have been killed, hundreds, including children and infants, blinded by shotgun pellets and over six thousand unarmed civilians injured over the past two months.

“These Indian brutalities are well documented,” asserted Nawaz.

Nawaz Sharif speaks during the 71st session of the UNGA. —AP

Nawaz Sharif speaks during the 71st session of the UNGA. —AP

He also shed light on the atrocities committed by Indian forces in India-held Kashmir (IHK) and urged the international community to act.

Nawaz also said that the current wave of unrest in IHK is the result of the heavy-handed and brutal tactics used by Indian forces in IHK, and Pakistan supports the rights of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.

While speaking at the 71st United Nations General Assembly, the prime minister demanded for an investigation into atrocities committed by Indian forces in IHK.

“Pakistan is not interested in an arms race with India,” said Nawaz.

The premier also urged the UN to demilitarise Jammu and Kashmir.

In this regard, the prime minister called for steps by the United Nations to undertake consultations with India, Pakistan and the true representatives of the Kashmiri people to implement the resolutions of the Security Council.

‘Pakistan principle victim of foreign sponsored terrorism’

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan has been the principle victim of terrorism and the country has lost thousands of civilians and security officials in terrorism related incidents.

“Pakistan has been the principle victim of terrorism, including that supported and sponsored from abroad.”

“Terrorism in now a global phenomenon which must must be addressed comprehensively, in all its form including state terrorism,” said the prime minister.

The premier on the occasion praised the results of Operation Zarb i Azb, and the country’s effort in undertaking comprehensive action against terror elements.

“We will not allow externally sponsored terrorism and threats of destabilisation to cause turbulence in Pakistan,” said Nawaz in a veiled reference to the reported Indian and Afghan covert actions in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif addresses the 71st session of United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York. —AFP

Nawaz Sharif addresses the 71st session of United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York. —AFP

ECP warns Imran against addressing rally in Taxila

ISLAMABAD: Taking notice of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan’s plans to address a rally in Taxila on September 23, ahead of the by-election for the PP-7 provincial assembly seat, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has asked the district administration to ensure that electoral laws and the code of conduct are implemented in letter and spirit.

ECP Additional Secretary Fida Mohammad told MEDIA the action was taken on the basis of a complaint, filed by a contesting candidate, as well as ECP’s own information about the planned show.

He said information received by the ECP suggested that the PTI planned to organise a public meeting in Taxila on Sept 23 and had announced that it would be addressed by party chief Imran Khan. The by-elections in the constituency are scheduled to take place on Sept 26.

Another ECP official told media the electoral code of conduct clearly bars the prime minister, chief minister, federal ministers, state ministers, advisors to the president and prime minister, provincial ministers, advisors to the chief minister and members of the national and provincial assemblies from visiting a constituency or a polling station after the issuance of the schedule of by elections, until polling is completed.

Under electoral rules, no MNA can campaign for candidates after announcement of poll schedule

“Imran Khan, being a member of the National Assembly, cannot take part in the campaign for his party’s candidates,” the official remarked. He stressed that any violation of the directive issued by the ECP shall be proceeded under Article 204 of the Constitution, read with section 103 A of the Representation of People Act (Ropa) 1976.

The provincial assembly seat fell vacant due to the death of PTI’s Siddique Khan. PML-N’s Umar Farooq and PTI’s Ammar Siddique Khan are in the run this time and a tough electoral battle is expected. While the PTI wants to retain its seat, the PML-N is also striving to clinch the constituency. Observers say the by-election would be a popularity test for both parties in the region.

Many are seeing it as a battle between Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and PTI MNA Ghulam Sarwar Khan, whose popularity graph has only gone up since he quit the PML-Q and joined PTI.

Both the Haji Dildar group, which has a strong voter-base in the northern part of the rural area and contested the 2013 elections from the PPP platform, as well as the Faisal Iqbal group, which contested the 2008 general elections as independents, have thrown their weight behind PML-N’s Umer Farooq.

Meanwhile, Syed Riaz Shah – who holds the vote bank of the Saadat family – has parted ways with the PML-N and aligned with the PTI. The local Jamaat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chapter president Hakim Mohammad Saad and general secretary Afzal Janjua have also announced their support for the PML-N.

The Jamaat-i-Islami has announced its support for the PTI candidate and the PTI claims to have support of other groups as well.