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Afghan officials make arrests in connection with Pakistan school massacre

Afghan authorities have arrested five men accused as accomplices in the December massacre at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Taliban carried out the strike, which killed almost 150 people, most of them children. The five men suspected of being involved in the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar were arrested in eastern Afghanistan, officials confirmed Saturday. The suspects, who according to the news agency dpa were from Pakistan, were being questioned in Afghanistan and due to be handed over to Pakistani authorities. According to dpa, a Pakistani security official said the arrests came after Pakistan supplied information to the Afghan government. News agents quoting anonymous diplomats and officials report that a prisoner exchange between the neighboring nations was being considered. On December 16, gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban stormed the school and killed some 150 people, most of them students, in an attack which shocked Pakistan. The Taliban said they were acting in revenge for a campaign by the country's military against them in the North Waziristan tribal region. In the wake of the school massacre, Pakistan has ended its moratorium on the death penalty and established military courts to try terror cases. Several convicted militants have been hanged in the weeks since.

Afghan authorities have arrested five men accused as accomplices in the December massacre at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Taliban carried out the strike, which killed almost 150 people, most of them children. The five men suspected of being involved in the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar were arrested in eastern Afghanistan, officials confirmed Saturday. The ... Read More »

Why Pakistan will remain a key US ally

Secretary of State John Kerry has said the US will boost its security and defense cooperation with Pakistan in its fight against militants. DW speaks to analyst Omar Hamid on the nature of the US-Pakistani military bond. Speaking at a joint press conference with Pakistan's national security adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad, Kerry praised the Pakistani military's ongoing operation against Islamist militants in the country's northwest. He also called on the South Asian nation to fight all militant groups that threaten Afghan, Indian and US interests. "We've been very clear with the highest levels of the Government of Pakistan that Pakistan has to target all militant groups, the Haqqani Network and others, which target US coalition and Afghan forces and people in Pakistan and elsewhere," Kerry said on Tuesday, January 13. Pakistan's military has vowed to avenge the December 16 Peshawar school massacre, in which some 150 people - mostly children - were killed. Since the Taliban assault, the army has intensified its ground and air strikes on Islamist militants in the restive Waziristan area. It is believed that some of the region's most feared militants use Waziristan as a launching pad for attacks within Pakistan as well as against NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in South and North Waziristan since the start of the operation. Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS, says in a DW interview the Pakistani army's actions against the Haqqani network as well as its operations in Waziristan seem to have restored US confidence in Pakistan and led to an increasing level of cooperation between the two countries. DW: Pakistan's problems with the Taliban insurgency are not new. Why did the US Secretary of State pick this time to pledge support for Pakistan in its offensive against extremist militants? Omar Hamid: The past six months or so has seen increased efforts by Pakistan against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups. The Pakistani army has gone to great pains to show that their operations were even-handed against all Taliban-affiliated outfits, including groups such as the Haqqani network, which has been responsible for major attacks in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul. The country's military had been accused by the US and Afghan governments of protecting the Haqqani network in the past. These latest actions seem to have restored confidence and led to an increasing level of cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. Therefore, while Secretary of State Kerry's visit may be occurring only now in the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack on December 16, in fact there has been growing intelligence cooperation between the two countries before this, as evidenced by US drone strikes targeting TTP leaders in eastern Afghanistan, which have been occurring since November 2014. What kind of assistance is the US willing to offer Pakistan? Pakistan is primarily interested in greater US military aid. The government also needs support for the resettlement of internally displaced persons from the current operation in North Waziristan. However, the Kerry Lugar Bill made the US government focus more on civilian institutions than just giving more aid money to the military. The real issue here is that military and economic cooperation between Pakistan and the US has continued throughout this period, even despite some periods where the rhetoric on both sides had become more inflammatory. Given this inflammatory rhetoric, why does the US believe it is important to assist Pakistan? Pakistan remains a key US ally for two reasons: First, the army is the only force currently capable of flushing Islamist militant groups out of their sanctuaries in the tribal areas. Second, the US recognizes that they would need Pakistan to lean on the Afghan Taliban to initiate any kind of meaningful peace negotiations. You mentioned the offensive in North Waziristan. The US has carried out a series of drone strikes in the tribal regions since Islamabad resumed its own offensive there. Pakistani officials, however, denounce the drone attacks as a violation of sovereignty. Are the two militaries working together in the offensive? Despite their public denunciations, there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that supports the fact that these drone strikes are done in conjunction with, and at the behest of, the Pakistani military. Almost certainly there has been an increase over the past few months in coordination between the two militaries, with US drone strikes targeting the TTP leadership on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border at the same time that Pakistani forces pushed into the North Waziristan. US drones are also actively targeting Mullah Fazllullah, the head of the TTP, who is thought to be in Kunar, Afghanistan, and was recently added to Washington's official terrorism list. At least two drone strikes have attempted to kill him since November 2014. Nevertheless, some analysts believe Pakistan's security services see the Haqqanis as an "asset" and maintain close links with them. What is your view on this? Whatever the past relationship may have been, during the current operation the Pakistani army has made it a point to target the Haqqani network, with the result that the Haqqanis' offensive capabilities seem to have been greatly reduced in recent times. In his visit to Washington in November 2014, Pakistan's army chief Raheel Sharif received public praise from both the Pentagon leadership and other members of the US establishment for having not spared the Haqqani network during the present operations. How could Kerry's pledge of support for Pakistan help ease tensions with neighboring India? Pakistan has always desired direct US intervention to resolve the Kashmir dispute with India. While such direct support is unlikely, nonetheless, with Pakistani-US relations enjoying a high point, the Pakistani establishment will be content that in light of supportive comments from the US, India will be restrained from taking any kind of unilateral action that would raise war risks between the two countries. What leverage does Washington have on Islamabad to help decrease the violence along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan? The US has the considerable leverage in terms of its economic support for Pakistan, which it could potentially use to decrease LoC violence, but it also understands that any threats about the reduction of aid and/or economic support would also undermine Pakistani support for anti-terror operations, which is the US' primary interest in engaging with the country. Therefore, its own priorities would take precedence over what India would consider urgent. Omar Hamid is Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said the US will boost its security and defense cooperation with Pakistan in its fight against militants. DW speaks to analyst Omar Hamid on the nature of the US-Pakistani military bond. Speaking at a joint press conference with Pakistan’s national security adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad, Kerry praised the Pakistani military’s ongoing operation against ... Read More »

Kerry urges Pakistan to step up fight against the Taliban

Secretary of state John Kerry arrived in Pakistan on Monday, to urge the government to step up its fight against terrorism. Kerry is reportedly set to visit the school where the Taliban killed 134 children last month. During his surprise two-day visit, Kerry is expected to press the Pakistani leadership to strengthen its efforts in combating militant groups, and eliminate safe havens for terrorists near the border with Afghanistan. A senior State Department official said Kerry would also lead the annual strategic talks between the United States and Pakistan during the visit, according to the AFP news agency. "The secretary's engagement will be very critical to advancing our shared fight against militant extremism," said the official who asked to remain anonymous. "It's obviously no secret that the US has pushed Pakistan to do far more on counter-terrorism." Pakistan has already intensified its operations against extremists in recent months, especially after the massacre in Peshawar, which left 150 people dead. Most of the victims in the attack on a military-run school on December 16 were children. However, the country has long been suspected of fostering certain militant groups in Afghanistan and India, while combating other fractions that target Pakistan itself. Some high-ranked state and army officials allegedly view the militants in the neighboring countries as strategic assets, which increase Pakistani influence. Pakistan's Taliban, blamed for the attack in Peshawar, are separate from the Afghan Taliban, but share the goals of overthrowing their governments and establishing a strict Islamist state in the region. Attacks continue Upon arrival, Kerry was welcomed by Pakistan's foreign affairs and security advisor Sartaj Aziz and headed directly into meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as Pakistan's army chief, General Raheel Sharif. "We heard you are planning to visit Peshawar and the school," advisor Sartaj Aziz told Kerry shortly after his arrival. There was no immediate State Department confirmation of Kerry's visit. Despite Pakistan's crackdown on terrorism, five people were killed in a suicide attack on Friday, outside a mosque in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad. Rivalry with India General Lloyd Austin, chief of the U.S. Central Command which oversees US military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, will also attend Kerry's meetings. Kerry is also expected to push for better trade connections between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as calming of tensions with India, after recent exchanges of gunfire along the border with the disputed Kashmir region.

Secretary of state John Kerry arrived in Pakistan on Monday, to urge the government to step up its fight against terrorism. Kerry is reportedly set to visit the school where the Taliban killed 134 children last month. During his surprise two-day visit, Kerry is expected to press the Pakistani leadership to strengthen its efforts in combating militant groups, and eliminate ... Read More »

Dozens killed as bus collides with oil tanker in Pakistan

پاکستان کے جنوبی شہر کراچی کے قریب بس اور آئل ٹینکر کے حادثے میں ہلاک ہو نے والوں کی تعداد 57 ہو گئی ہے۔ صوبہ سندھ کی انتظامیہ نے بتایا کہ حادثے کا شکار ہونے والی بس کراچی سے شکار پور جا رہی تھی کہ گلشن حدید کے پاس ایک آئل ٹینکر سے جا ٹکرائی۔ ایک سینیئر پولیس افسر راؤ محمد نےبتایا کہ حادثے کی تحقیقات شروع کر دی گئی ہیں۔کراچی کے جناح ہسپتال میں ڈاکٹر سیمی جمالی نے بتایا کہ انہیں 57 لاشیں پہنچائی گئی ہیں۔ ڈاکٹر جمالی کے بقول لاشوں کی شناخت صرف ڈی این اے ٹیسٹ سے ہی ممکن ہے۔

At least 57 people, including women and children, have been killed after a bus crashed into an oil tanker in southern Pakistan. The accident led to a fiery blaze, making rescue attempts difficult. The overloaded bus was on its way to Shikarpur from Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi. Senior police officer Rao Muhammad Anwaar said the bus “hit the oil tanker ... Read More »

A subdued Christmas in Peshawar: A call for unity

Pakistan's Christian community is observing a somber Christmas this year to show solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar attack. DW analyzes why the inter-faith harmony is needed in the country more than ever. "I bought new clothes to celebrate Christmas, but I am not going to wear them," said seven-year-old Michael. The resident of Peshawar, the capital city of the restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told DW it was not a time to rejoice. "We feel saddened over the killings of so many children in the attack on the Army Public School last week. We stand with their families and relatives." More than 140 people, mostly children, were killed in a militant attack on an army-administered school in Peshawar on December 16. The Islamist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) outfit claimed responsibility for the assault. It took the Pakistani commandos several hours to break the school siege and free the hostages. The attack led to widespread condemnation of the Taliban both locally and internationally. A large number of Pakistanis demanded the government take decisive action against all Islamist groups in the country once and for all. 'We can never forget' Peshawar's Christians offered special prayers for the school victims and their families in the city's churches on Christmas Eve. "We can never forget the young students and the trauma of their parents as we observe a subdued Christmas today," an elderly Christian woman told DW at a special ceremony organized by the Peshawar Church in the memory of the December 16 victims. Some 29 survivors of the school attack are still in hospitals. The city's medical sources told DW the condition of some of the wounded kids was critical. "It was the most painful incident in the history of our city," said Nazir, another participant of the church ceremony. No solidarity from Muslims Pakistan's Christians, who make up less than a two percent of the Islamic country's 180 million population, rarely receive this kind of support from the majority Sunni population. Last year in September, just two months before Christmas, Peshawar's Christians were burying their own dead. On September 22, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the courtyard of Peshawar's All Saints church, killing 82 and leaving as many injured. The attack on the church in the northwestern Pakistani city is believed to be the deadliest ever against the Christian community. No Sunni cleric held memorial services for the deceased. For decades, the All Saints church symbolized religious harmony in the Islamic Republic and was revered by Christians and Muslims alike. But in the past four or five years, Pakistan has witnessed an unprecedented surge in Islamic extremism and religious fanaticism. Islamist groups, including the Taliban, have repeatedly targeted religious minorities in the country to impose their strict Shariah law on people. Not only that, Christians and other minorities have been attacked and mistreated by common Pakistanis numerous times for allegedly insulting Islam or the prophet Muhammad. In November, a young Christian couple was beaten to death by a mob in the small town of Kot Radha Kishan in the eastern Punjab province, a political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The angry crowd, which alleged that Shehzad and Shama desecrated a copy of their holy book, the Koran, subsequently burned their bodies in a brick kiln where the couple worked. A forgotten case Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, has been languishing in prison for more than five years. The 49-year-old mother of five was arrested in June, 2009 after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam's prophet, Muhammad. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under the Islamic Republic's controversial blasphemy law despite strong opposition from the national and international human rights groups. The slim hope that the Pakistani judiciary might pardon Bibi and eventually release her was dashed in November when the Lahore High Court (LHC) ruled to uphold her 2010 death sentence. "We must not let the story of Asia Bibi go unnoticed. The fact that she has been in prison for five years doesn't mean that it shouldn't be news anymore. We need to keep up the pressure and make sure that her story is told and retold. That's the least that we owe to her," Dr. Clare Amos, a Program Executive and Coordinator for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches' inter-religious dialogue and cooperation program, told DW. Amos added that the issue of violence in Pakistan should not be looked at in isolation. Political and religious solidarity "First they came for the Shiites. I did not speak out, because I was not a Shiite. Then they came for the Christians. I did not speak out, because I was not a Christian. Then they came for the Peshawar children, and I didn't speak out again, because they were not my children. Soon they will come and attack my children," Shah Ahmed, a Karachi-based social activist, told DW, echoing the famous anti-Nazi statement made by German pastor Martin Niemöller. Ahmed said people should forget their differences and stand up against terrorism. "What happened in Peshawar was so brutal that it cannot be explained in words. These barbarians, the Taliban, will kill us all if we don't act now," Ahmed said. Jibran Nasir, a leader of the #ReclaimYourMosques movement, which began after the Peshawar attack and has now spread to several Pakistani cities, believes it is high time that all political and religious parties unite against the menace of terrorism. "People ask us, what if our campaign gets hijacked by a political party? We say we are welcoming all parties to come and own this movement," Nasir wrote on his Facebook page.

Pakistan’s Christian community is observing a somber Christmas this year to show solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar attack. DW analyzes why the inter-faith harmony is needed in the country more than ever. “I bought new clothes to celebrate Christmas, but I am not going to wear them,” said seven-year-old Michael. The resident of Peshawar, the capital city of ... Read More »

Pakistan resumes executions after six-year pause

Pakistan has carried out the first executions since the government ended a six-year moratorium on the death penalty this week. They come as the country steps up efforts to combat an Islamist insurgency. Two convicted militants were hanged on Friday in Pakistan, just days after the government lifted a six-year ban on the death penalty following a brutal terror attack on a school earlier this week in which 149 people died, most of them children. "Yes, two militants, Aqil - alias Coctor - Usman and Arshad Mehmood have been hanged in Faisalabad jail," Shuja Khanzada, Home Minister of central Punjab province, where the executions took place, told AFP news agency. Aqil led a militant attack on the Pakistani military's headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009, while Mehmood was convicted of involvement in an attempted assassination of former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003. Pakistan imposed a de facto ban on executing civilians in 2008, although prisoners continue to receive death sentences, with rights group Amnesty International estimating that more than 8,000 prisoners are currently on death row in the country. Prison officials have said that at least 17 militants convicted on terror charges will be executed in the coming week. Deterrent effect questioned The government ended the moratorium on the death penalty for terror-related cases on Wednesday in response to the attack by Taliban militants on an army school in the city of Peshawar one day earlier. The lifting of the ban came as Pakistani political and military leaders voiced their resolution to stamp out the country's Islamist insurgency. The United Nations has, however, called on Islamabad to reinstate the ban, saying that "the death penalty has no measurable deterrent effect on levels of insurgent and terrorist violence" and "may even be counter-productive."

Pakistan has carried out the first executions since the government ended a six-year moratorium on the death penalty this week. They come as the country steps up efforts to combat an Islamist insurgency. Two convicted militants were hanged on Friday in Pakistan, just days after the government lifted a six-year ban on the death penalty following a brutal terror attack ... Read More »

Bombing on India-Pakistan border claims dozens of lives

پاکستان کے شہر لاہور کے قریب واہگہ بارڈر پر ایک خود کش دھماکے کے نتیجے میں کم از کم اڑتالیس افراد ہلاک ہو گئے ہیں۔ پولیس کے مطابق اتوار کی شام ہونے والے اس حملے کے نتیجے میں کم از کم ستّر افراد زخمی ہوئے۔ لاہور پولیس کے ایک اہلکار مشتاق سکھیرا کے مطابق پاکستان اور بھارت کے درمیان واہگہ بارڈر پر ہر شام ہزاروں افراد جمع ہوتے ہیں۔ خبر رساں دارے ڈی پی اے کے مطابق انہوں نے مزید کہا کہ یہ حملہ ایسے وقت ہوا جب پاکستان بھر میں سکیورٹی فورس محرم کے حوالے سے ہائی الرٹ پر ہیں۔ پولیس اہلکار اجمل بٹ کے مطابق یہ حملہ بظاہر ایک جواں سال لڑکے نے کیا جس نے اپنے جسم سے دھماکا خیز مواد لگا رکھا تھا۔ ٹیلی وژن پر دکھائے گئے مناظر میں ایمبولینسوں کو دھماکے کے مقام کی جانب جاتے ہوئے دکھایا گیا ہے جبکہ زخمیوں اور لاشوں کو لاہور کے ہسپتالوں میں منتقل کیا جا رہا ہے۔ پولیس اہلکار سکھیرا نے بتایا ہے کہ مرنے والوں میں رینجرز کے کم از کم دو اہلکار شامل ہیں۔ واضح رہے کہ پاکستان کی فوج کی جانب سے افغان سرحد سے ملحق قبائلی علاقے شمالی وزیرستان میں شدت پسندوں کے خلاف آپریشن شروع کیے جانے کے بعد دہشت گردی کی يہ بدترین کارروائی ہے۔

A blast near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore has left dozens of people dead, according to local officials. Police say a suicide bomber carried out the attack. At least 45 people were killed in eastern Pakistan on Sunday when a bomb exploded near the city of Lahore. “According to initial information it was a suicide attack,” Reuters news agency ... Read More »

What did the Islamabad protests achieve? What did the Islamabad protests achieve?

For months, thousands of protesters thronged Pakistan's capital demanding that the government resign amid vote-rigging claims. But while Nawaz Sharif held on to power, he is now a weakened PM, says Michael Kugelman. For 65 days, anti-government protesters staged a massive sit-in in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. At the peak of the movement - led by former cricket star Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri - some 70,000 people were demanding that the government of democratically-elected PM Nawaz Sharif step down amid accusations of incompetence and rigging last year's parliamentary vote. For months, the protesters camped out in front of the parliament building, after being led by Qadri and opposition leader Khan from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital on August 14 - Pakistan's Independence Day. There were clashes with the police as protesters ransacked the state television headquarters, causing a temporary lapse in transmission. On August 30 the demonstrators burst through security barricades and clashed with security forces outside parliament. The authorities responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Three people were killed in the melee and hundreds were injured. But the attempt to overthrow the government failed. Qadri officially ended his sit-in in Islamabad on October 21, and while Khan's supporters remain camped out, it is unclear what political impact this will have. However, Michael Kugelman, Pakistan analyst at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says in a DW interview that the movement already got what it wanted by weakening and discrediting the Sharif-led government. DW: Is the protest movement basically over now that Qadri ended his sit-in? Michael Kugelman: For all intents and purposes this game has been over for a number of weeks, when the protest leaders got their wish for a weakened and discredited government. The anti-government movement has repeatedly said it intends to bring down the government, but in reality its leaders will be satisfied that it has been weakened, even if it remains in power. Why did the movement ultimately fail to overthrow the government? There are various reasons. One is the stubbornness of the government, and particularly Prime Minister Sharif, which refused to back down. Another factor is the Pakistani security establishment, which did not - perhaps contrary to the views of many anti-government protestors, including the leaders themselves - pressure the government to step down. It's not as easy now as it was decades ago to remove governments in Pakistan. There are stronger legal obstacles, and the military simply has no stomach for seizing power once again. So what we had, in the end, was heightened expectations from the protestors coupled with more subdued sentiments from the security establishment. The upshot? The government, though weakened, was able to pull through and survive. How important was the fact that the entire parliament decided to support Sharif? This was one of the little-reported "good" stories from the anti-protest movement, for which coverage has otherwise largely revolved around how the military was able to cut the government down to size. In this case, we had a victory for democracy in that different parliamentary parties rallied around Sharif in a show of force against extrajudicial efforts to bring down the government. The ironic thing, of course, is that Sharif himself has never shown much appreciation for the parliament himself - even during the height of the protests; he rarely appeared in the legislature. What was unique about these protests? In many ways these were part of an ongoing story that materializes repeatedly in Pakistani history - one characterized by efforts, likely orchestrated to some extent by the security establishment, to mobilize the masses on the street to pressure the government. What was different this time was that democratization has progressed significantly, with the notion of a coup never really taken seriously - even when the protests briefly became violent several weeks back. What was also different - in a good way - was how there was a strong diversity of protestors, and particularly many women. This is something many commentators took note of. On the other hand, though, these protests were really quite farcical. You had a purported peoples' movement to bring about large-scale change that was likely guided, to some extent, by the Pakistani security establishment. Even when the protestors stopped coming out in Islamabad, Khan and Qadri continued to make blustery and frequently bizarre speeches - to a crowd characterized more by empty chairs than screaming partisans. How come did the army decide not to intervene or take power? Did Sharif pay a political price for this? The army's days of coups are over - for now. It is very concerned about its global image - not just because of its sponsorship of militants, which is an old story, but because its veneer of invincibility has been shattered by militant attacks on military bases and by the discovery of Osama Bin Laden living in Pakistan. Launching a coup would not exactly bolster its image. Also, things are so bad in Pakistan now that the army simply has no desire to be burdened by such matters. This could change one day, but for now, I don't think we need to worry about coups. Could the fact that the government was not overthrown be regarded as a victory for democracy in Pakistan? Absolutely. If this had happened decades ago, during periods of weak civilian rule, then the government would likely have been gone like clockwork. That the government has survived is, in some ways, a testimony to deepening democratization. At the same time, however, the fact that a civilian government elected on a huge mandate has now become a shell of its former self is a big setback for democracy. What impact did the protests have on Pakistan politics? In some ways, not too much has changed. The military has always been the most important political player in Pakistani politics, and now its omnipotence has only become more entrenched. As always, the military - by brokering talks and by putting itself in position to benefit from the protests - was right in the middle of everything, exploiting the situation for maximum advantage. There are some notable consequences. One is that Sharif, who seemed so strong when elected by a huge margin last year, is a weakened figure. The military, by mediating between recalcitrant sides with a seemingly steady hand, has perhaps regained some of its trust from a wary population. Meanwhile, Imran Khan may have lost support. Many of his partisans were turned off by his often-raving speeches, and by how long he drew out his protest. Yes, he continues to be able to mobilize people on the streets, as he's done at several marches around Pakistan in recent weeks. But he likely damaged his future electoral prospects, which arguably reached a high water mark during the 2013 election. Did the protests achieve anything in terms of launching an investigation into vote rigging? The ruling party has claimed it will take some sort of action. However, it has been vague, and it's unclear what will happen. Presumably, though, Qadri had enough assurance that the government would act in that he decided to halt his protest. Where are Qadri and Kahn expected to go from here? Khan will return to what he does best - bringing people out on the streets. And meanwhile, we can assume that he'll continue to position himself for Pakistan's next elections. One thing he likely won't do is seek introspection. He will likely be full speed ahead. Such is his nature. As for Qadri, he claims he will be expanding his "revolution" across the country, and he may well launch more protests as Khan will. Still, if the past is precedent, we can expect Qadri to soon return to his home in Canada - and wait for the next opportunity to come back to Pakistan to cause trouble for the Pakistani government. Michael Kugelman is senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.

For months, thousands of protesters thronged Pakistan’s capital demanding that the government resign amid vote-rigging claims. But while Nawaz Sharif held on to power, he is now a weakened PM, says Michael Kugelman. For 65 days, anti-government protesters staged a massive sit-in in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. At the peak of the movement – led by former cricket star Imran Khan ... Read More »

Amid Taliban threats, Pakistan hits record polio cases

With three months left in 2014, Pakistan has already detected a one-year record number of polio cases. Health officials have discovered 202 cases from January to October 3. After confirming polio in eight children Friday, Pakistan has broken its own 14-year-old record of highest cases in a year, Rana Mohammad Safdar, a senior official at the National Institute of Health in Islamabad, said on Saturday. The previous modern record had stood at 199 cases in 2000 - though that represented 366 days, rather than just nine months. "We are sad to announce that the number of polio cases is now all-time high in Pakistan," Safdar told The Associated Press news agency on Saturday. Polio remains endemic in just three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The highly contagious virus transmits best in unsanitary conditions, making vaccination necessary. Safdar said that health officials had launched another nationwide anti-polio drive earlier in the week in an attempt to get all of Pakistan's 34 million children vaccinated. "New polio cases are surfacing because of those children who could not be immunized against the disease in tribal regions," Safdar told AP. "We were expecting this alarming increase in polio cases." The number of cases reached a low of 28 in 2005 but rose to 198 in 2011, with 93 cases recorded in 2013. As Pakistan moves into its post-monsoon period, officials fear the final figure for 2014 could rise as high as 250. The highly infectious disease affects mainly children younger than 5 years old and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours, with some cases being potentially fatal. 'Alarming increase' The Taliban has banned immunizations and killed about 60 polio workers or police escorting them in Pakistan since 2012. The group increased attacks after it became known that Dr. Shakil Afridi had offered a program of hepatitis vaccinations in the northwestern city of Abbottabad as a cover for his CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from children at a local compound where Osama bin Laden lived. US Navy Seals went on to kill the al Qaeda leader there in 2011. "All these cases were recorded in the areas where we have security problems," Saira Afzal Tarar, Pakistan's deputy health minister, told the private TV channel Express News. Officials said the strain of the virus most prevalent in Pakistan had spread to neighboring Afghanistan, which has recorded a total of seven cases this year.

With three months left in 2014, Pakistan has already detected a one-year record number of polio cases. Health officials have discovered 202 cases from January to October 3. After confirming polio in eight children Friday, Pakistan has broken its own 14-year-old record of highest cases in a year, Rana Mohammad Safdar, a senior official at the National Institute of Health ... Read More »

Pakistan’s economy battered by floods and political unrest

Devastating floods and weeks of political turmoil have dealt a heavy blow to Pakistan's already struggling economy, with damages potentially adding up to tens of billions of dollars, as analyst Athar Hussain tells DW. Talks to end a month-long sit-in by anti-government protesters in Pakistan remain deadlocked after authorities arrested dozens of demonstrators. The South Asian country has been facing political turmoil over the past weeks ever since opposition politicians Imran Khan and Tahir-ul Qadri led mass demonstrations against the democratically elected government of PM Nawaz Sharif, whom they accuse of incompetence and rigging last year's parliamentary vote. The ongoing unrest is also the reason why China's President Xi Jinping postponed a trip to the country this week, a visit in which both nations were expected to sign deals worth 34 billion USD. Moreover, monsoon floods ravaged more than 3000 villages in parts of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and the Punjab province, in which more than 300 people are reported to have died. Athar Hussain, Director of the Asia Research Centre at the London School of Economics, says in a DW interview that while the ongoing protests have effectively almost totally paralyzed the functioning of the government, the floods have devastated parts of the country's agricultural heartland, a key area for economic growth which could lead to billions of USD in damages. But in order to tackle the key issues undermining growth, the government must implement reforms, he adds. DW: What impact have the weeks-long protests had on Pakistan's economy? The protests have completely paralyzed the working of the central government in Islamabad. Many of the government's ministries cannot function, and the prime minister is working from his country house rather than the capital. But it is important to point out that the turmoil hasn't had much of an economic impact as the Pakistani government hadn't been doing much to improve the economy even before the protests kicked off. So the shutdown of government has not had a drastic effect on the state of the economy. Chinese President Xi Jinping postponed his visit to Pakistan due to anti-government protests. 34 billion USD of deals were scheduled to be signed during Xi's visit. What effect is this likely to have on Pakistan's economy? China is Pakistan's largest trading partner and Beijing is interested in a stable Pakistan mainly because it wants to maintain a balance in South Asia – particularly between New Delhi and Islamabad. But it is not easy - Pakistan is facing grave social and economic problems. So the postponement of Xi's trip will obviously aggravate things, and the deals between Beijing and Islamabad will be delayed. Having said that, in terms of bilateral trade China is important for Pakistan, but not so much the other way around. Parts of the country, especially in the east and northeast have been ravaged by floods. What damage have they inflicted in economic terms? Growth in the agricultural sector has been severely affected given the vast area covered by the floods and the importance of the Kashmir and Punjab area as Pakistan's "bread basket." The flooding has damaged the province's canal system which is used to irrigate the lands. According to the preliminary estimates, 20 to 30 million people have been affected by the latest inundation. Agriculture accounts for a significant part of the country's GDP, so we are looking at damages potentially adding up to billions of US dollars. In this context we must also take into account that thousands of farmers in the flood-hit areas were still recovering from the devastating impact of last year's floods. These are mostly poor peasants who lost everything and are now faced an ever bigger challenge. On top of that, the people in the region are now faced with the risk of disease due to countless bloated livestock carcasses floating in the floodwaters. What are the foremost challenges currently facing Pakistan's economy? Every kind of major challenge you can think of. For example, Pakistan has experienced record population growth and significant migration to urban areas in the past years. However, the country hasn't been able to provide employment to a huge part of the labor force. There is also the problem of underinvestment in infrastructure. Pakistan has thus far been unable to generate economic growth out of its increased urbanization. On top of that, many of the country's industrial clusters are not environmentally friendly and have weak infrastructure services. As a result, the country's GDP growth has been weak and its industrial sector cannot compete with a number of under-developed countries. Moreover, all forecasts say that Pakistan will be worse-affected by climate change in the coming years. How willing are foreign companies to invest in Pakistan given the current political turmoil and the country's history of coups? Social and political conditions in Pakistan work against long-term commitments from foreign investors. The political parties that govern the country are responsible for failing to create a situation where the economy can expand. For example, most politicians don't even pay taxes and create loopholes in the legislation as political favors to the country's rich and powerful. An indirect factor deterring investors is the country's strategic location in South Asia. Because of its geopolitical importance, Islamabad has been able to get foreign aid easily, which allows it to keep postponing economic reforms and partly hampers economic development. What does the government need to do to get the economy back on track? There is no short-term solution; the government has to undertake reforms. The country needs to invest a lot in its infrastructure, but for that Islamabad needs to generate more revenue. While everyone agrees that Islamabad needs to collect more taxes, the current political culture is not helping, as already explained. But most importantly, Pakistan must continue with the democratic process to get back on track. Good governance will not come immediately; it has to develop. The only good thing about the current political crisis is that it seems that nobody wants a military coup in Pakistan. Professor Athar Hussain is the Director of the Asia Research Centre at the London School of Economics.

Devastating floods and weeks of political turmoil have dealt a heavy blow to Pakistan’s already struggling economy, with damages potentially adding up to tens of billions of dollars, as analyst Athar Hussain tells DW. Talks to end a month-long sit-in by anti-government protesters in Pakistan remain deadlocked after authorities arrested dozens of demonstrators. The South Asian country has been facing ... Read More »

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