Pakistan military officials brief lawmakers on national security

This file photo shows Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, during the handover ceremony in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Nov.29, 2016. (Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR)/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 19 December 2017
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Pakistan military officials brief lawmakers on national security

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, briefed the Senate Committee of the Whole House in Islamabad on Tuesday on matters pertaining to national security. It is the first time in six years — since the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in 2011 — that the country’s military leaders have addressed Pakistan’s lawmakers in the Senate.
The military’s top brass, including Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Naveed Mukhtar, accompanied Bajwa amid tight security to brief the Senate Committee, chaired by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, in a four-hour meeting which was also attended by members of Parliament.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor told media that Director General Military Operations (MO) Maj. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza had informed the whole house about the military’s approach on security matters which affect the nation. The army is expected to provide further details of the discussion at a press briefing this week.
The briefing was also intended to bridge information gaps between lawmakers and the armed forces, while also addressing concerns about the role of the armed forces, Ghafoor added.
Defense analyst, and retired brigadier, Haris Nawaz, told Arab News: “The purpose of this briefing is that the army believes in civilian supremacy and accepts democracy. The Senate is the right forum to brief them on the prevailing geopolitical and geostrategic environments, and on what the army is doing to safeguard Pakistan’s interest in the region.”
The military’s unilateral decision to take lawmakers into its confidence comes amid Washington’s policy change toward Islamabad, ongoing skirmishes at the Pakistani-Indian disputed border and the volatile situation at the Afghan border.
Insiders quoted Bajwa as saying that his visits to a number of countries in recent months were intended to strengthen military diplomacy against the backdrop of regional geostrategic change, and his meetings further cemented bilateral understanding between Pakistan and its neighbors and allies.
“We cannot ignore the changes that are taking place in Afghanistan,” the chief of army staff reportedly said. “Border management is necessary to protect the Pak-Afghan border.”
Nawaz said that Bajwa briefed the House on his trips to Iran, China, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The army’s top brass explained that, since 2015, the military courts had passed judgment on 274 terror-related cases, sentencing 161 people to death. Since Bajwa took command of the army, the courts have received 160 cases and, so far, 56 convicts have been executed.
Pakistan’s largest broad-spectrum security operation — Radd-ul-Fasaad (Elimination of Discord) — was launched in February to eliminate the threat of terrorism and consolidate the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in 2014 as a joint military offensive that resulted in thousands of raids, said Maj. Gen. Mirza.
The efforts, he reportedly told the Senate, have resulted in 1,249 operations in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the restive Tribal Areas, with 31 major operations in the region. In Punjab, that number was 13,011 with seven major ops, and in Baluchistan 1,410 including 29 major ops.
Maj. Gen. Mirza added that 18,001 operations were executed based on intelligence sharing, in which 19,993 weapons were confiscated and a total of 4,983 search operations were conducted.
An estimated 8,780 suspects have been remanded in police custody since the paramilitary operation began in 2013 in Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi, Maj. Gen. Mirza said, from whom 1,948 terrorists have been captured and 154 kidnappers have been arrested, leading to the recovery of those kidnapped.
Nawaz said that, apart from the two military-led operations, the army chief discussed the visits of US officials to Pakistan and told legislators of their expectations from the US, which wants its non-NATO ally to eliminate terrorists from its soil.
“He also highlighted the Indian intelligence and Afghan intelligence agencies fomenting terrorism in Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan,” said Nawaz, who believes that this briefing will have addressed the concerns and questions of the Senate about the army’s activities.


Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

Updated 30 min 16 sec ago
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Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

  • More than 27,000 people died and 1.8 million displaced since the start of Boko Haram conflict in 2009
  • Malkohi residents say they will support President Muhammadu Buhari because he helped curtail the extremists’ power

MALKOHI, Nigeria: Idriss Abdullahi was once a successful businessman and a husband to four wives, until the day he fled his home when Boko Haram insurgents advanced across northeastern Nigeria.
Five years on he lives beside dull farmland in a tented camp in Malkohi village, near the Adamawa state capital Yola, and tries to make a living selling firewood.
But the earnings are so meager he has had to divorce one of his wives.
“Even an animal lives better than me,” he told AFP in the camp he shares with 2,800 of his neighbors from the Borno state town of Gwoza, which the insurgents sacked in 2014.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009 and some 1.8 million others are still displaced.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to end the insurgency, which at its peak saw the extremists control an area the size of Belgium.
In Abdullahi’s hometown, the wild-eyed leader of the extremists, Abubakar Shekau, declared an Islamic caliphate.
An offensive involving Nigerian troops and foreign mercenaries pushed them back. But in recent months there have been signs of resurgence.
Despite that, residents of Malkohi say they’re ready to support Buhari at Saturday’s rescheduled vote — even if they can’t return to Gwoza to do so.
“It’s not that we actually love him,” Abdullahi said of the president. “It’s that he saved our lives from Boko Haram.”
Shortly after taking office, Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated,” apparently fulfilling the promise that was seen as a key to his victory.
But in February last year, the group seized 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, in an echo of the 2014 abduction of more than 200 from Chibok that brought world attention to the conflict.
Malkohi itself hasn’t been spared; the group in 2015 bombed a government-organized camp across the road from the informal settlement where the former Gwoza residents stay.
An Islamic State-allied faction has in recent months overrun military bases, seizing equipment and weapons, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
Nigeria’s election commission has been forced to set up special measures for them to vote: in Borno, some 400,000 displaced people will vote at 10 centers.
Several others have been created in Adamawa.
The main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has seized on the insecurity and claimed Buhari has failed in his core duty of keeping Nigerians safe.
But from their homes in Adamawa — Abubakar’s home state — Malkohi residents say they feel more forgotten than under attack.
“Up to now, hospitals have not been provided. Before, [aid groups] gave us drugs, but now we don’t receive any,” said Fanta Ali, a housewife at the camp.
The Malkohi camp today is made up of rows of shacks separated by dirt paths, on which barefoot children and turkeys strut.
The makeshift homes are constructed from tarpaulin donated by aid agencies who also built a water tower for the settlement.
Many Malkohi residents were prosperous in Gwoza but without money to start businesses they now rely on manual labor to get by.
“Seriously, I’m suffering,” said Abdulrahman Hassen, once a merchant and chair of a professional association who now farms for a living.
Returning to Gwoza, where Boko Haram remains strong, is still a distant prospect. Helping people go home will be on the next president’s to-do list.
The displaced say they’re made to feel like outsiders in Adamawa, and local residents call them thieves for farming the land around the camp.
Gwoza was badly damaged when it was retaken in 2015, and cellphone reception is so weak residents climb trees to get a signal, said Yunussa Takda, a youth leader in Malkohi.
Meanwhile, the town’s outlying villages are still unsafe.
“Under Buhari, we’ve seen that a lot of our villages that have been taken by Boko Haram haven’t been recovered,” he said. “Maybe if he’s given a second chance, we can go home.”
Umaru Ibrahim Bakare lost track of his pregnant wife and then three-year-old daughter in the chaos of Boko Haram’s initial attack on the town, and has been looking for them ever since.
He made an unsuccessful trip to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, aiming to find his family.
He remains hopeful after the Red Cross connected a friend with three children he’d lost when fleeing Boko Haram.
“We must vote Muhammadu Buhari to finish what he’s started and defeat the insurgency,” he said.