Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts

Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts
The undated still image taken from a video shows a Zainabiyoun Brigade fighter holding a banner that reads Zainabiyoun. [Photo courtesy: Screengrab taken from a video posted by ZainabiyonMediaTeam/Facebook]
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Updated 12 April 2024
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Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts

Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts
  • The Zainebiyoun Brigade comprises Pakistanis allegedly trained by Iran for fighting in Syria alongside Bashar Assad’s forces
  • Islamabad’s move comes days before Iranian’s president’s expected visit, aimed at repairing ties after tit-for-tat strikes in Jan.

KARACHI: Pakistan designated the Zainebiyoun Brigade, an Iran-backed militant group comprising Pakistani nationals that has been active in Syria, as a “terrorist” organization after it became a potential threat to the country’s security, experts said on Friday.

The Pakistani government had reasons to believe that Zainebiyoun Brigade was engaged in certain activities “prejudicial to the peace and security of the country,” read a notification, issued by the country’s interior minister on March 29, which emerged on Thursday. Subsequently, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) updated its official list of proscribed organizations, placing the Iran-backed group at 79th spot.

The development came a day after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Israel “must be punished and will be punished,” following an April 1 attack that destroyed Iran’s consulate building in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, including two generals. Some analysts believe Tehran might be planning an attack on Israeli interests in the world and could move the Zainebiyoun Brigade for this purpose.

Since the US Treasury added the Zainebiyoun Brigade to its financial blacklist in Jan. 2019, Pakistani authorities have arrested several militants affiliated with the group, notably in the country’s commercial hub of Karachi, a significant recruitment hub for the militant outfit, along with three other regions – Parachinar, Quetta and Gilgit Baltistan.

Security experts say Islamabad moved to outlaw the Zainebiyoun Brigade due to the threat it posed to Pakistan’s security in the current scenario.

“Its [Zainebiyoun’s] activities may trigger major sectarian conflict as it used to be in Pakistan sometimes ago as retaliation by Sunni extremist groups may further complicate the environment,” Abdullah Khan, an Islamabad-based security expert, told Arab News.

Previously, Zainebiyoun members fighting in Syria and Iraq were considered an “indirect threat,” but now the group’s members have reportedly returned to Pakistan and replaced banned sectarian outfit Sipa-e-Muhammad “as the main militant group targeting opponents,” according to Khan. The Zainebiyoun Brigade has now become “a very serious threat to Pakistan’s sectarian harmony.”

A Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to designate Zainebiyoun Brigade as a proscribed entity was made after Iran’s attacks inside Pakistan.

“The decision, implemented on March 29, was taken in a high-level meeting following Iran’s attack inside Pakistan,” the official told Arab News. “Increasing attacks in Balochistan by militants based in Iran further pushed for the implementation of this decision.”

In January, Iran targeted two suspected bases of the Jaish-ul-Adl militant group in Pakistan with missiles, prompting a rapid military riposte from Islamabad targeting what it said were separatist militants in Iran.

The tit-for-tat strikes were the highest-profile cross-border intrusions by the two countries in recent years and raised alarm about a wider conflict.

“Iran-Pakistan relations have been strained since the Iranians fired missiles in Pakistan earlier this year, which has triggered questions about Iranian relationship with various armed groups active in Pakistan, including the Zainebiyoun,” Dr. Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace, told Arab News.

“Even if not a decisive factor in Pakistani calculus to designate Zainebiyoun, it is difficult to separate the decision from the state of Iran-Pakistan bilateral ties.”

Pakistan’s designation of the Zainebiyoun Brigade as a militant outfit also comes days before an expected visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the third week of April and is likely to put pressure on Tehran in the talks later this month.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based independent scholar on militancy, politics and security, concurred the move was also linked to “growing tensions” between the two countries.

“Recently, amid growing tensions between Pakistan and Iran, this move can be interpreted as Pakistan’s attempt to thwart potential sectarian attacks aimed at destabilizing the country,” he said.

“Iran has accused Pakistan of harboring sanctuaries for Jaish-ul-Adl [militant group] and has threatened repercussions.”

Sayed said the group had emerged as a “dangerous” organization as significant number of youths previously associated with other outfits had joined its ranks.

“Its militants have also been implicated in terrorist attacks against rival sects within Pakistan,” he added.

In January this year, the counter-terrorism department (CTD) in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province said they had apprehended Syed Muhammad Mehdi, a suspected militant associated with the Zainebiyoun Brigade who had been involved in an assassination attempt on Mufti Taqi Usmani, a top Pakistani cleric, in Karachi in 2019. The attack had killed two of Mufti Usmani’s guards.

In July 2022, then Pakistan interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the Senate that Zainebiyoun Brigade members were among the militants “found actively involved in terrorist activities” in the country in 2019-2021.

In recent years, Pakistani authorities have announced the arrest of a number of suspects who they said were affiliated with the Zainebiyoun Brigade and were trained in Iran.

In Nov 2020, an Associated Press report said a number of Pakistanis were among 19 pro-Iran militia fighters killed in eastern Syria.

In March 2020, a senior official told Arab News that up to 50 Pakistani fighters were killed by the Turkish army and Syrian forces in a major rebel stronghold in the northwest of Syria.


First batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrive in Jeddah

First batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrive in Jeddah
Updated 14 sec ago
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First batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrive in Jeddah

First batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrive in Jeddah
  • A total of 34,316 Pakistanis reached Madinah by May 23 in first phase of Pakistan’s pre-Hajj flight operation
  • As many as 114 flights will be transporting another 34,422 Pakistani pilgrims to Jeddah from May 24 to June 9

ISLAMABAD: The first batch of 720 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrived in Jeddah on Friday, Pakistani state media reported, a day after Pakistan diverted its pre-Hajj flights from Madinah.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
These 720 Pakistani pilgrims departed from Islamabad and Karachi under the Makkah Route initiative and arrived via Saudia airline flights that landed at the King Abdulaziz International Airport, the APP news agency reported.
“The first flight SV-3705, with 370 passengers on board, arrived by 5 a.m. (local time) and the second SV-3727 landed at 6:10 a.m. carrying 350 Hajj pilgrims,” the report read.
Head of Pakistan Hajj Mission Abdul Wahab Soomro, Consul General Khalid Majeed and senior officials of the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs as well as representatives of the Saudi government welcomed the pilgrims.
Under the Makkah Route initiative, the passengers directly left for their hotels avoiding long queues at the immigration counters and their luggage was shifted automatically to their residences.
In the first phase of Pakistan’s pre-Hajj flight operation, a total of 34,316 Pakistanis reached Madinah by May 23 through 146 flights, according to the report.
From May 24 to June 09, as many as 114 flights will be transporting 34,422 Pakistanis to Jeddah.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Security of Chinese workers tops agenda as Islamabad, Beijing hold key investment meeting

Security of Chinese workers tops agenda as Islamabad, Beijing hold key investment meeting
Updated 9 min 7 sec ago
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Security of Chinese workers tops agenda as Islamabad, Beijing hold key investment meeting

Security of Chinese workers tops agenda as Islamabad, Beijing hold key investment meeting
  • Joint Cooperation Committee is main decision-making body for CPEC and convenes annually
  • Five Chinese workers, Pakistani driver were killed in suicide attack on their vehicle on March 26

KARACHI: Pakistan and China are holding a virtual meeting of the 13th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) today, Friday, with the security of Chinese organizations and personnel working in the South Asian nation expected to be at the top of the agenda. 
China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan but both separatist and other militants have attacked Chinese projects over recent years and killed Chinese personnel, including five Chinese workers who perished in a suicide attack Mar. 26 while they were on their way to the Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The hydropower project falls under the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative through which it has pledged more than $65 billion for road, rail and other infrastructure developments in the South Asian nation of 241 million people.
Beijing has also over the years readily provided financial assistance to bail out its often-struggling neighbor, including in July last year when China granted Pakistan a two-year rollover on a $2.4 billion loan, giving the debt-saddled nation much-needed breathing space as it tackled a balance-of-payments crisis.
“The 13th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has formally started with a one-minute silence in honor of the Chinese officials who lost their lives in a recent suicide bomb blast,” Pakistan’s planning ministry said in a statement on X.
“Chinese workers in Pakistan are heroes of Pakistan, whose contributions significantly support the realization of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.”
The JCC is the main decision-making body for CPEC, which convenes annually. The MoU to launch CPEC was signed between Pakistan and China on July 5, 2013. Pakistan has said more than 50 projects worth $25 billion under the CPEC umbrella have been completed since. 
But Chinese projects and interests have also increasingly come under attack in recent years. The Dasu assault in March was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests and followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. 
Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.
Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.
Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.
Chinese interests are mostly under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan, but that area is far from the site of the Mar. 26 bombing.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s top economic body approved $2.5 million in compensation for families of Chinese workers who were killed in the Mar. 26 Dasu attack.


Authorities demolish part of Imran Khan’s Islamabad party office for ‘violating’ bylaws

Authorities demolish part of Imran Khan’s Islamabad party office for ‘violating’ bylaws
Updated 53 min 23 sec ago
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Authorities demolish part of Imran Khan’s Islamabad party office for ‘violating’ bylaws

Authorities demolish part of Imran Khan’s Islamabad party office for ‘violating’ bylaws
  • Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf calls move ‘patently illegal and unlawful’
  • PTI has complained of a widening state-backed crackdown on the party

ISLAMABAD: Local authorities on Thursday razed part of the Islamabad office of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) over what they said was a “violation” of building by-laws, with the party calling on the top court to restrain authorities from doing ‘irreparable’ damage. 
Officials and staff of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) arrived at the PTI Central Secretariat in the G-8/4 sector along with heavy machinery late on Thursday night and removed two shipping containers placed outside the building, as well as took down a guard room and a fence. They then sealed the office for alleged violations of city building bylaws.
“CDA operation over violations of building by-laws and to eliminate illegal constructions and encroachments,” the authority said on X. “Encroachments and illegal constructions on a plot by a political party in Sector G-8/4 are being removed.”
Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari, a senior spokesperson for the PTI and close Khan aide, said the party was neither served a notice, nor granted the opportunity for a hearing.
“This is patently illegal and unlawful,” he said in a statement. “We don’t have time to file a petition at this point of time. The Hon’ble CJ SCP [chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan] may consider this message as an urgent application and direct Islamabad administration to refrain from causing such irreparable loss to the party.”
The PTI says it has been facing a state-backed crackdown, especially after May 9 last year when alleged Khan supporters ransacked government and military properties after the leader’s brief arrest on graft charges. 
Hundreds of PTI supporters and leaders were arrested following the riots and many continue to remain behind bars as they await trial. The military has also initiated army court trials of at least 103 people accused of involvement in the violence. Many close Khan aides have since deserted him, due to what is widely believed to be pressure from the army, which denies interfering.
Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022, has been in jail since last August and convicted in four cases. He and the PTI say the May riots have been used as a ruse by political rivals and the military to weaken the party, which is arguably the most popular in Pakistan. Khan also says all cases against him are politically motivated and accuses the country’s powerful military and his political rivals of trying to keep him out of politics, an allegation they both deny.


Pakistan considers changing women’s passport policy amid row over including husband’s name

Pakistan considers changing women’s passport policy amid row over including husband’s name
Updated 24 May 2024
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Pakistan considers changing women’s passport policy amid row over including husband’s name

Pakistan considers changing women’s passport policy amid row over including husband’s name
  • NADRA allows women to retain father’s name on CNICs but passport authorities mandate changing to husband’s name 
  • Lawyer Khadija Bukhari has petitioned court saying women be allowed to retain father’s name whether married or divorced 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government is considering modifying its passport policy for married and divorced women, a senior official said on Thursday, after a lawyer petitioned a local court against the requirement to include the husband’s name on the travel document. 
Lawyer Khadija Bukhari has pointed out the contrition in the policies of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and the Directorate General Immigration & Passports (DGIP) regarding married women.
The former allows women to retain their father’s name even after marriage while updating their marital status on their Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC), but the passport authority has made it mandatory to change the name from father to husband. However, because the passport is made on the basis of NADRA data, a woman who has not switched to her husband’s name on her CNIC must get a new CNIC made reflecting the change before she can be issued a new passport.
Speaking to Arab News, Bukhari said she had her husband’s name included in her CNIC data in order for their marriage to be registered with NADRA, but later decided to retain her father’s name in the second column of her CNIC.
“So, there was no problem with that. But once I went to the passport office when my passport expired, they said, ‘We cannot renew your passport because your CNIC has not been updated’,” she told Arab News.
“By that it was meant that ‘You’re supposed to be wife of someone, you cannot remain a daughter if you want to get a passport. So first go back to NADRA, get your CNIC changed and reflect that you are the wife of someone and then we will process your application’.”
Bukhari argued that if NADRA didn’t have a problem with women retaining their father’s name then why did the passport authority have a separate policy. 
Immigration and Passports Director-General Mustafa Jamal Kazi told Arab News it was currently a “legal requirement” for a married woman to have her husband’s name on her passport as the document was used internationally and must comply with international agreements, unlike NADRA-issued CNICs that were used only in Pakistan.
“These rules are driven through the act of parliament and secretary interior has constituted a committee under his chairmanship to solve this issue. The committee will look into the passport policy concerning the condition of a married woman’s passport bearing her husband’s name instead of her father’s name,” Kazi said. 
“The committee was tasked with addressing discrepancies between the policies of the National Database and Registration Authority and the passport issuing authority regarding married women.”
Kazi said the solution to the problem, which he also intended to present to the government committee, was to add another column to the passport to include the name of a woman’s ex-husband, the father of their children, in case of divorce.
“We need all the details in our database because for international verifications different countries send the data of Pakistani citizens to us and we need to verify from every aspect,” he said. 
“Therefore, we need all the information and concealing facts can cause problems for them [women] at a later stage.”


IMF, Pakistan make significant progress on new loan, IMF mission says

IMF, Pakistan make significant progress on new loan, IMF mission says
Updated 24 May 2024
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IMF, Pakistan make significant progress on new loan, IMF mission says

IMF, Pakistan make significant progress on new loan, IMF mission says
  • The IMF has opened discussions with Pakistan on a new loan program after Islamabad last month completed a short-term $3 billion program
  • An IMF team, led by mission chief Nathan Porter, concluded discussions with the authorities on Thursday after arriving in Pakistan on May 13

ISLAMABAD: An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission and Pakistan have made significant progress toward reaching a staff-level agreement for an extended fund facility, the global lender said on Friday.
The IMF has opened discussions with Pakistan on a new loan program after Islamabad last month completed a short-term $3 billion program, which helped stave off a sovereign debt default.
An IMF team, led by mission chief Nathan Porter, concluded discussions with the authorities on Thursday after arriving in Pakistan on May 13, the lender said in a statement.
“The mission and the authorities will continue policy discussions virtually over the coming days aiming to finalize discussions, including the financial support needed to underpin the authorities’ reform efforts from the IMF and Pakistan’s bilateral and multilateral partners,” Porter said.
Pakistan is likely to seek at least $6 billion under the new program and request additional financing from the IMF under the Resilience and Sustainability Trust.
Ahead of the discussions, the IMF had warned that downside risks for the Pakistani economy
remained exceptionally high.
“The authorities’ reform program aims to move Pakistan from economic stabilization to strong, inclusive, and resilient growth,” Porter added.