DG ISPR briefs nation on security in view of Afghan situation

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar is holding a press conference in view of the evolving situation in neighbouring Afghanistan.

At the outset of his press conference in Rawalpindi, he said he would talk about the evolving situation in Afghanistan and the implied national security problems that Pakistan could face, along with the measures the armed forces had taken and would continue to take to “ward off any spillover of insecurity and instability into Pakistan”.

Prior to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the military situation in the war-torn Afghanistan “unfolded rapidly”, he said.

He emphasised that there was “no doubt” that Pakistan’s side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was secu

Biden vows retribution as death toll from Kabul airport attack rises to 85, including 13 US troops

US President Joe Biden ordered American military commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-Khorasan assets, leadership and facilities as the death toll of suicide blasts at Kabul airport rose to 85.

Two blasts and gunfire rocked the area outside the airport on Thursday evening, witnesses said. Videos shot by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies strewn around a canal on the edge of the airport.

A health official and a Taliban official said the toll of Afghans killed had risen to 72, including 28 Taliban members. The US military said 13 of its service members were killed.

ISIS-Khorasan, an Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility. ISIS, an enemy of the Taliban as well as the West, said one of its suicide bombers targeted “translators and collaborators with the American army”.

US officials also blamed the group and vowed retribution.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” said Biden while addressing his nation from the White House soon after the attack.

“We will respond with force and precision, at our time, at the place we choose and at the moment of our choosing,” he said.

“I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.”

Biden also indicated that he could send more military assistance to Afghanistan if he felt the need for it. “I’ve instructed the military (to act) with whatever they need. If they need additional force, I will grant it,” he said.

The attacks, he said, had only increased the determination of the US military to carry on its mission.

Biden said that the service members who lost their lives in Kabul on Thursday were “heroes” and “the best the country has to offer”.

“The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, the service of others, in the service of America,” he said.

He also defended relying on the Taliban to provide security outside the Kabul airport.

“We are counting on them to act in their own self-interest,” he said. “And it’s in their interest that we leave when we said we would. There is no evidence thus far from our commanders in the field that there has been collusion between Taliban and ISIS.”

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people on August 26, at Kabul airport on August 27. — AFP
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people on August 26, at Kabul airport on August 27. — AFP

Biden’s chief diplomat — US State Secretary Antony Blinken — used the attacks to argue that the president’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan was right.

“The bombings around the Kabul airport were a devastating reminder of the dangerous conditions in which our service members and diplomats are operating as we conclude the United States’ 20-year military mission in Afghanistan,” he said.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd J. Austin reminded Americans that the terrorists took the lives of American service members “at the very moment they were trying to save the lives” of others.

“We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families […] but we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand,” the US defence chief declared.

US on alert for more attacks

General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said US commanders were on alert for more attacks by ISIS, including possible rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting the airport.

“We’re doing everything we can to be prepared,” he said, adding that some intelligence was being shared with the Taliban and that he believed “some attacks have been thwarted by them.”

A video taken in the aftermath of the attack of the attack showed corpses in a wastewater canal by the airport fence, some being fished out and laid in heaps while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.

“I saw bodies and body parts flying in the air like a tornado blowing plastic bags,” said one Afghan witness. “That little water flowing in the sewage canal had turned into blood.”

Zubair, a 24-year-old civil engineer, said he was close to a suicide bomber who detonated explosives.

“Men, women and children were screaming. I saw many injured people — men, women and children — being loaded into private vehicles and taken toward the hospitals,” he said.

Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul on August 26. — AP
Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul on August 26. — AP

‘Chaotic evacuation’

A US Central Command spokesperson said 18 soldiers wounded in the attack were “in the process of being aero-medically evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s with embarked surgical units”.

A Taliban official lamented the number of Taliban members killed in the ISIS attack.

“We have lost more people than the Americans in the airport blast,” a Taliban official said, adding that the Taliban was “not responsible for the chaotic evacuation plan prepared by foreign nations”.

A Nato country diplomat in Kabul said all foreign forces were aiming to evacuate their citizens and embassy employees by Aug 30.

The Taliban would tighten security around the airport, said the diplomat who declined to be identified.

“Security is their responsibility,” the diplomat said, adding that the Taliban should investigate the Islamic State network.

Western countries fear that the Taliban, who once sheltered Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, will allow Afghanistan to turn again into a haven for militants. The Taliban say they will not let the country be used by terrorists.

Airlift continues

The United States would press on with evacuations despite the threat of further attacks, McKenzie said, noting that there were still about 1,000 US citizens in Afghanistan.

The pace of evacuation flights had accelerated on Friday and American passport holders had been allowed to enter the airport compound, said a Western security official stationed inside the airport.

In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people. But they acknowledge that thousands will be left behind when the last US troops leave at the end of the month.

Several Western countries said the mass airlift of civilians was coming to an end and announced their last remaining troops had left the country.

The American casualties in Thursday’s attack were believed to be the most US troops killed in Afghanistan in a single incident since 30 personnel died when a helicopter was shot down in 2011.

The US deaths were the first in action in Afghanistan in 18 months, a fact likely to be cited by critics who accuse Biden of recklessly abandoning a stable and hard-won status quo by ordering an abrupt pullout.

Taliban say they want peace, will respect women’s rights under Islamic law

The Taliban held their first official news conference in Kabul on Tuesday since the shock seizure of the city, declaring they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” the movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said.

Key points from Taliban’s first press conference

  • We seek no revenge and “everyone is forgiven”
  • We will honour women’s rights but within the norms of Islamic law
  • We want private media to remain independent but the media should not work against national interests
  • Afghanistan will not allow itself to harbour anyone targeting other nations
  • Afghanistan will be a narcotics-free country

Mujahid, who until now had been a shadowy figure issuing statements on behalf of the militants, said women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”.

The Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and members of the Western-backed government, he said, insisting that “everyone is forgiven.” He added that the movement was granting an amnesty for former Afghan government soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.null

“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said.

He added that a new government would be formalised as soon as the unstable conditions in Kabul permitted.

Mujahid stressed that Afghanistan would not allow itself to harbour anyone targeting other nations. That was a key demand in a deal the militants struck with the Trump administration in 2020 that led to the ultimate US withdrawal under current President Joe Biden.null

He said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan, adding the Taliban were committed to the media within its cultural framework.

He also pledged that Afghanistan, source of most of the world’s heroin according to a UN drugs control agency, would be free of narcotics, asking the international community to help it develop alternative crops for farmers who have relied on opium poppies for their livelihood.

Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted sharply with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed that he would not bow to Kabul’s new rulers.

The Taliban news conference came as the United States and Western allies evacuated diplomats and civilians a day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban thronged the terminal.null

As they rush to evacuate diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan, foreign powers are assessing how to respond to the changed situation on the ground.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country to depart, adding that Nato’s aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan.

There has been widespread criticism of the US withdrawal amid the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “the images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West.”

Under last year’s US troop withdrawal pact, the Taliban agreed not to attack foreign forces as they leave.

Many Afghans have expressed the fear that the Taliban will return the country the brutal rule they used when last in charge, and foreign officials have said they will wait to see if the insurgents make good on their promises.

Flights resume

US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan restarted on Tuesday after the runway at Kabul airport was cleared of thousands desperate to flee.

US forces took charge of the airport — their only way to fly out of Afghanistan — on Sunday, as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight, 20 years after they were ousted by a US-led invasion.

The number of civilians had thinned out, a Western security official at the airport told Reuters. On Monday, US troops had fired warning shots to disperse crowds and people clung to a US military transport plane as it taxied for take-off.

At least 12 military flights had taken off, a diplomat at the airport said. Planes were due to arrive from countries including Australia and Poland to pick up their nationals and Afghan colleagues.

President Biden said he had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal agreement negotiated by his predecessor.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Facing criticism from even his own diplomats, he blamed the Taliban’s takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and its army’s unwillingness to fight

PM officially launches single national curriculum today

ISLAMABAD: Terming the Single National Curriculum (SNC) a milestone to end disparity in the education system, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Sunday Prime Minister Imran Khan will officially launch the SNC on Monday (today).

Addressing a press conference at the Press Information Department (PID), the minister said that except Sindh the SNC had been launched from class I to 5 in public, private schools and seminaries.

“We are hopeful Sindh too will adopt SNC at a later stage. I will hold meetings with the education minister and the chief minister of Sindh soon,” he said. It is for the first time in the history of the country that the SNC has been prepared, which is indeed a great achievement of the PTI government, he said.

“Monday is going to be a highly auspicious day for the country as the prime minister will officially launch the SNC,” Mr Mahmood said, adding that all private, public schools and seminaries were bound to teach SNC-based books, which were available in markets.

Besides government publishers, private publishers have also been issued non-objection certificates for publishing the books.

He said that there are some challenges for proper implementation of SNC as new initiatives always face some resistance, adding that the government will overcome all the challenges.

The minister warned that action will be taken against those private schools which will not adopt the SNC-based books. He, however, said private schools and seminaries can teach students extra material/books of their choice but they can’t avoid the SNC-based books. The government is also mulling conducting special exams of class fifth in coming years to check implementations of the SNC.

He said that from next year the SNC would be introduced from class six to eight and then in 2023 from class nine to 12.

He said many challenges, which the country was facing, were a result of the disparity in the education system as a small group of students who got education in upscale schools got maximum chances of excelling while majority of students of public schools had no opportunity to shine because of the different education system.

The SNC, besides covering other aspects, also emphasised character building of students, promoting tolerance, nationalism, civic responsibilities etc. He said under the SNC Muslim students will be taught Nazra as a compulsory subject while they will also be taught about the life of the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Similarly, the minister said, for the first time students of five sects of minorities will be taught books of their sects. To a query, the minister said he would ensure that there is no shortage of books in the markets. He said compared to others the SNC books were very cheap.