Army to be deployed in Hangu

KOHAT: The administration here has decided to deploy army troops in Hangu and put them on standby in Kohat from 7th to 10th of Muharram to ensure peace and security in the two cities.

It was officially announced here on Wednesday that Kohat division administration had decided to keep the Kohat-Hangu road up to Kurram Agency closed from 6th to 10th of Muharram for the safety of the transport and Muharram processions on the roads and other routes of the two cities.

Meanwhile, a jirga of Shia and Sunni elders of Hangu and Kohat agreed to observe peace and harmony during Muharram. The jirga was held at the Commissioner’s House in Kohat and attended by MPAs from Hangu and Kohat, district Khateeb, Sunni Supreme Council chairman Javed Ibraheem, DPOs and deputy commissioners of Hangu and Kohat and other relevant people.

The commissioner said that the government was determined to maintain peace during Muharram. The Kohat administration has declared five imambargahs and eleven mosques as the ‘most sensitive’.

District police officer, Kohat, Sohaib Ashraf said in a statement that six control rooms and one command post had been established while army would remain on standby.

A meeting of the liaison committee was also held at Ustarzai police station, Kohat, where it was announced that army would be deployed for the security of 43 imambargahs on Hangu road in Kohat.

DISTRICT COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS: The district council on Wednesday asked the administration to establish Pesco construction division in Kohat and cancel recent appointment of class-IV employees in the livestock department.

A statement issued here said that a session of the district council was chaired by convener Abdur Rasheed.

Distrcit nazim Maulana Niaz Mohammad presented different resolutions in the house. Others who spoke included opposition leader Naseem Afridi and councillors Mir Shah Raza, Dr Matiullah, Waheed Hayat, Mst Fareeda advocate and others.

The nazim presented resolutions about expediting work on Pesco energy programme, repair of transformers, resolving overbilling problem, establishment of protector office and action against DEO (male). He expressed concern over the unhygienic condition and lack of treatment facilities in the Women and Children Hospital.

The house criticised Pesco for the loadshedding which had not been stopped during Muharram. Astonishingly, the electricity is being snapped after every 15 minutes more than 10 times a day, but the problem had not been removed in one month.

The Nazim demanded of the administration to ensure implementation of the resolutions passed by the district council and the provincial government to take steps for resolution of the people’s problems. He said that that he would lead a delegation to meet with the chief minister and urge him to take action against the DEO.

3 killed as Indian army camp comes under attack in held Kashmir

KARACHI: Suspected militants attacked an Indian army camp in India-held Kashmir’s Kupwara district in the wee hours of Thursday, reported The Indian Express.

The report said three militants were killed in exchange of fire with security forces at the battalion headquarters of 30 Rashtriya Rifles in Langate area.

There was “a stand-off firing for about 15-20 minutes” when the militants opened fire at around 5am, The Hindu quoted an army official as saying.

“The troops were on alert and the attack was foiled,” he said.

A search operation was reportedly launched in the adjoining areas after the attack.

This is the second attack on Indian army camps in five days. On Sunday, at least one trooper of the Border Security Force (BSF) was killed and another injured in a similar attack on an army camp at Baramulla town of IHK.

Pak-Belarus trade volume to be raised to $1bn

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Belarus have agreed to raise the volume of bilateral trade from $50 million to $1 billion over the next four years.

The agreement was made during a meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday.

Mr Sharif emphasised that the two countries needed to work hard to increase bilateral trade. “We need to encourage joint ventures and business-to-business contacts in the areas of textiles, agricultural equipment and products, heavy machinery, pharmaceuticals and automotives,” said Mr Sharif.

Mr Lukashenko said that Belarus was eager to enhance cooperation with Pakistan in diverse fields and sectors, stressing that both countries need to capitalise on the huge potential which would benefit the people on both sides.

During the formal bilateral talks, the prime minister claimed that Pakistan was one of the most investor-friendly countries, offering opportunities for foreign investors with a market of nearly 200 million people. The establishment of a joint trade committee was an important vehicle to identify bottlenecks and resolve issues in trade relations between the two countries, he added.

The Belarusian president suggested developing joint ventures and business-to-business contracts in building of heavy machinery, including automotive engineering, agri­c­u­l­tu­ral harvesting mac­h­i­n­ery, road construction ma­c­hinery and dump trucks. He said the ventures should process surgical instruments, pharmaceuticals and other areas of mutual benefit as well.

The meeting noted that economic relations with Belarus could be an investment window to Europe for Pakistan.

According to informed sources, the Minister for National Food Security, Sikander Hayat Khan Bosan, will soon visit Belarus to explore the possibilities of setting up joint ventures in agro-based industries.

The fourth Belarus-Pakis­tan Business and Investment Forum concluded with the finalisation of documents to boost cooperation between the two countries, including memorandums, agreements and protocols. The protocol of exchange of instruments for ratification of the friendship treaty between Belarus and Pakistan was also signed.

Other agreements included mut­ual legal assistance in civil and economic affairs and assistance in customs matters. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the National Bank of Belarus and the State Bank of Pakistan.

International community should condemn Indian fabrications in Kashmir: Gen Raheel

RISALPUR: The international community should condemn the distortion of facts by India regarding held Kashmir and the LoC, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif said on Thursday.

“We have recently witnessed an unfortunate display of utter desperation playing out inside occupied Kashmir and along the Line of Control through a litany of falsehood and distortion of facts by India,” he said while addressing a passing out parade of PAF cadets.

“We expect the international communtiy to condemn Indian insinuations and fabrications about a nation that has made unparalleled contributions to the global fight against terror.”

He said the Pakistani armed forces are fully prepared to give the “most befitting response” to any internal or external threats directed at the country.

“Pakistan is a responsible country and remains committed to the policy of friendship with all other countries based on equality and mutual respect.”

Talking about the internal front, he said Operation Zarb-i-Azb with “full support from Pakistan Air Force” has successfully turned the tide against terrorism.

Soaring tensions

The army chief’s comments come as tensions simmer between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue

In one of the worst episodes of cross-border firing along the Line of Control, at least two Pakistan Army soldiers were killed as Indian troops opened fire on the first line of defence last month.

India also claimed to have performed a “surgical strike” by crossing the disputed boundary. The Indian claims were rubbished by Pakistan Army.

It later emerged that an Indian soldier was captured by the Pakistan army, while Indian soldiers were also killed in the episode of firing across the LoC.

Security sources said at the time that at least eight Indian soldiers were killed in firing by Pakistani troops.

Since then, Pakistani and Indian troops have exchanged fire across the LoC on an almost daily basis.

Exclusive: Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military

ISLAMABAD: In a blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning, the civilian government has informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state.

As a result of the most recent meeting, an undisclosed one on the day of the All Parties’ Conference on Monday, at least two sets of actions have been agreed.

First, ISI DG Gen Rizwan Akhtar, accompanied by National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua, is to travel to each of the four provinces with a message for provincial apex committees and ISI sector commanders.

The message: military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action. Gen Akhtar’s inter-provincial tour has begun with a visit to Lahore.

Second, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed that fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi antiterrorism court.

Read: India links talks resumption to Pathankot probe

Those decisions, taken after an extraordinary verbal confrontation between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI DG, appear to indicate a high-stakes new approach by the PML-N government.

The following account is based on conversations with Dawn of individuals present in the crucial meetings this week.

All declined to speak on the record and none of the attributed statements were confirmed by the individuals mentioned.

Foreign secretary’s presentation

On Monday, on the day of the All Parties’ Conference, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry gave a separate, exclusive presentation in the Prime Minister’s Office to a small group of civil and military officials.

The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Sharif and included senior cabinet and provincial officials. On the military side, ISI DG Rizwan Akhtar led the representatives.

The presentation by the foreign secretary summarised the results of the recent diplomatic outreach by Pakistan, the crux being that Pakistan faces diplomatic isolation and that the government’s talking points have been met with indifference in major world capitals.

Examine: What should determine Pakistan’s foreign policy?

On the US, Mr Chaudhry said that relations have deteriorated and will likely further deteriorate because of the American demand that action be taken against the Haqqani network. On India, Mr Chaudhry stated that the completion of the Pathankot investigation and some visible action against Jaish-i-Mohammad were the principal demands.

Then, to a hushed but surprised room, Mr Chaudhry suggested that while China has reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too has indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan. Specifically, while Chinese authorities have conveyed their willingness to keep putting on technical hold a UN ban on Jaish-i-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar, they have questioned the logic of doing so repeatedly.

Extraordinary exchange

The foreign secretary’s unexpectedly blunt conclusions triggered an astonishing and potentially ground-shifting exchange between the ISI DG and several civilian officials.

In response to Foreign Secretary Chaudhry’s conclusions, Gen Akhtar asked what steps could be taken to prevent the drift towards isolation. Mr Chaudhry’s reply was direct and emphatic: the principal international demands are for action against Masood Azhar and the Jaish-i-Mohmmad; Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the Haqqani network.

To that, Gen Akhtar offered that the government should arrest whomever it deems necessary, though it is unclear whether he was referring to particular individuals or members of banned groups generally. At that point came the stunning and unexpectedly bold intervention by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Addressing Gen Akhtar, the younger Sharif complained that whenever action has been taken against certain groups by civilian authorities, the security establishment has worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free. Astounded onlookers describe a stunned room that was immediately aware of the extraordinary, unprecedented nature of the exchange.

To defuse tensions, Prime Minister Sharif himself addressed Gen Akhtar and said that policies pursued in the past were state policies and as such they were the collective responsibility of the state and that the ISI DG was not being accused of complicity in present-day events.

PM’s strategy?

Several eyewitnesses to the incredible events of Monday believe that the foreign secretary’s presentation and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s intervention were orchestrated by the prime minister to stir the military to action, leading to the decision to dispatch the ISI DG on an inter-provincial tour.

Yet, according to the accounts shared with Dawn, the sparring between the ISI DG and civilian officials did not degenerate into acrimony.

Earlier in the meeting, ISI DG Gen Akhtar stated that not only is it the military’s policy to not distinguish between militant groups, but that the military is committed to that policy prevailing. The ISI chief did mention concerns about the timing of action against several groups, citing the need to not be seen as buckling to Indian pressure or abandoning the Kashmiri people.

Gen Akhtar also readily agreed to tour the provinces at the direction of the prime minister, issue fresh orders to ISI sector commanders and meet with provincial apex committees to chalk out specific actions that need to be taken in various provinces.

According to several government officials, Monday’s confrontation was part of a high-stakes gamble by Prime Minister Sharif to try and forestall further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. In separate meetings with the army chief, participants describe an animated and energised Mr Sharif, who has argued that Pakistan faces real isolation if policy adjustments are not made.

Government officials, however, are divided about whether Prime Minister Sharif’s gamble will pay off. According to one official, commenting on the ISI DG’s commitments, “This is what we prayed to hear all our lives. Let’s see if it happens.”

Another government official offered: “Wait till November to see if action will be taken. By then a lot of things will be settled.”

Military officials declined to comment.