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Pakistani Passenger Jet Crashes On Flight To Capital

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) office in Islamabad

A Pakistani passenger plane carrying more than 40 people on a domestic flight has crashed in the north of the country, officials say.

Laiq Shah, a senior police official in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, said the Pakistan International Airlines flight crashed on December 7 in that region, near the town of Havelian.

Officials did not say whether there were any survivors.

Flight PK-661 lost contact with air traffic controllers on its way from the northern city of Chitral to Islamabad, Pakistan International Airlines said.

Local media reports said a total of 47 passengers and crew were on board the plane.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, Reuters, AP, and AFP


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Islamist Political Party Blocks Pakistani Film On Moral Policing

FILE: Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan, a hard-line religious political party, speaks to supporters in November 2018.

Authorities in Pakistan have temporarily stopped the release of a movie that tackles moral policing and intolerance in society after receiving complaints by a hard-line Islamist party.

The film, Circus of Life, was approved by Pakistan's censorship board for release on January 24 but came under heavy criticism from the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party. TLP asked the government for a ban and said it would stage a rally against the film on January 21.

"The movie is blasphemous and should not be released at all," said TLP spokesman Pir Zubair Kasuri.

"The movie will be reexamined on February 3," the provincial government of Punjab said in a statement, adding that it made the decision following repeated complaints from different groups.

Filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat said on Twitter that he received "dozens of threatening phone calls" because of the film.

Khoosat's studio has filed a petition in a Lahore civil court against TLP for "trying to interfere into the smooth running, public screening/releasing" of the movie.

Thousands of people supported Khoosat who has also written to Prime Minister Imran Khan over the issue.

A trailer of the film that showed the misuse of the blasphemy law was taken down from YouTube following strong criticism from Islamist groups.

Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in Pakistan and those accused can become the target of Muslim vigilante groups.

TLP was at the forefront of rioting in 2018 when the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years for allegedly insulting Muslim prophet Muhammad.

With reporting by dpa and

Pakistan To Import 300,000 Tons Of Wheat To Meet Flour Crisis

The prices of flour and bread went up last week as the staple disappeared from shops and wholesale markets.

Pakistan on January 20 approved the import of 300,000 tons of wheat to alleviate the effects of a shortage of flour supplies that has triggered a crisis for Prime Minister Imran Khan's government.

Prices of flour and bread went up last week as the staple disappeared from shops and wholesale markets.

The decision to import the wheat was made by Pakistan's Economic Coordination Council, with the first shipment expected to arrive by mid-February, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

It was not immediately known from which country or countries Pakistan will import the wheat.

Pakistan exported more than 600,000 metric tons of wheat from late 2018 to June 2019, its statistics bureau says. Although the government banned exports in July last year, 48,000 metric tons was still sent overseas until October 2019.

Experts said it made no sense to export the wheat after poor crop yields in the last harvest and called for an investigation into the exports despite the ban.

With reporting by Reuters

Pakistan Jails Dozens Over Protests Sparked By Christian Woman's Blasphemy Acquittal

FILE: Supporters of the Tehreek-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party shout slogan on the arrival of the leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi at an anti-terrorist court in Lahore, February 2019.

A Pakistani court has sentenced 86 people to 55-year prison terms each for taking part in violent rallies over the acquittal of a Christian woman in a high-profile blasphemy case.

Those convicted were all workers and supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hard-line Islamist party that had spearheaded violent protests across Pakistan in late 2018 in the wake of Asia Bibi's acquittal.

An anti-terrorism court in the city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, announced the verdicts late on January 16 following a trial that lasted for more than a year.

Senior party leader Pir Ejaz Ashrafi said the sentences -- unusually harsh in Pakistan, where blasphemy is a very sensitive issue -- would be appealed.

Those convicted are not expected to spend more than 25 years in prison -- the equivalent of a life sentence under Pakistani law.

Among those sentenced were a brother and a nephew of TLP head Khadim Hussain Rizvi.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 and sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam. She consistently denied the charges against her.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned Bibi’s conviction in 2018. But following nationwide rallies against the ruling, authorities held her in protective custody before she was allowed to leave for Canada last year to reunite with her family there.

Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used in Pakistan to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

Last month, a court sentenced Junaid Hafeez, a 33-year-old Muslim professor, to death after finding him guilty of spreading anti-Islamic ideas.

Hafeez had been held for six years awaiting trial.

Nearly one month after the sentence was handed down, more than 80,000 people have signed a petition on to ask for justice for Hafeez and for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to be repealed.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Dawn, and RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal

Pakistan FM Qureshi Urges U.S. To 'Remain Engaged' In Rebuilding Afghanistan

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has urged Washington to help Afghanistan rebuild even if it eventually removes its troops.

Pakistan’s foreign minister said during his visit to Washington that the United States should remain engaged in Afghanistan even if it eventually pulls its troops out of the war-torn country.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 17, cautioned Washington not to return to a policy of neglect of Afghanistan in the manner seen after 1989, when Soviet troops pulled out under pressure from U.S.- and Pakistan-backed Islamic guerrillas.

"Do not repeat the '80s," Qureshi said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Even if there is a successful agreement, challenges will remain there, so the United States and its friends and coalition partners will have to have a more responsible withdrawal," he said.

"They should remain engaged -- not to fight, but to rebuild," he said.

U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since their 2001 invasion to drive out the Taliban following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. The Taliban controlled Afghanistan at the time and harbored Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his desire to remove the estimated 13,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan in America’s longest war.

Over the past year, Islamabad has helped facilitate the talks between U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban in Qatar, where the militants have a political office.

But the talks have repeatedly stalled, with Washington calling on the group to reduce violence, among other things.

Earlier in the day, Qureshi said in a video message that the Taliban has shown "willingness" to reduce violence in Afghanistan, calling it a “step toward” a peace deal between the militant group and the United States.

Pakistan was the main backer of the former Taliban regime and maintains contacts with the extremists.

The Taliban militants have given Khalilzad an offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and 10 days, AP reported, citing Taliban negotiators.

"They are pragmatic and not foolish. They are also fatigued," Qureshi said of the Taliban.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP

U.S. Indicts Five Suspects For Smuggling U.S. Goods To Pakistan’s Nuclear Program

U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers (file photo)

A federal court has indicted five men suspected of operating an international network of front companies to purchase goods in the United States for Pakistan’s nuclear and other weapons programs in violation of two legislative acts designed to protect U.S. national security, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.

The indictment, unsealed on January 15, says the "defendants smuggled U.S.-origin goods to entities that have been designated for years as threats to U.S. national security for their ties to Pakistan’s weapons programs," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

Accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Export Control Reform Act are: Muhammad Kamran Wali (Kamran), 41, of Pakistan; Muhammad Ahsan Wali (Ahsan), 48, and Haji Wali Muhammad Sheikh (Haji), 82, both of Canada; Ashraf Khan Muhammad (Khan) of Hong Kong; and Ahmed Waheed (Waheed), 52, of Britain.

All are associated with the front company Business World in Pakistan and the group allegedly procured "38 separate exports" from 29 U.S.-based companies through an international web of firms that concealed the true destination of the goods in Pakistan, according to the indictment.

However, a multiagency law enforcement investigation established that the goods went to two Pakistani organizations whose activities "are found to be contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests: the Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC)."

AERO was added to the Commerce Department's entity list in 2014 after the U.S. government found that it had "used intermediaries and front companies to procure items for use in Pakistan's cruise missile and strategic UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] programs."

Arrest warrants for the five suspects are pending and none of them have been apprehended.

Dozens Killed As Avalanches Hit Pakistan-Administered Kashmir

Rescue workers remove snow from roads after avalanche hit several areas in Neelum valley in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir on January 14.

At least 55 people have been killed and more are missing following avalanches in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir over the last 24 hours, officials say.

Pakistani officials on January 14 said many villagers were still stranded by the avalanches in the Neelum Valley area following heavy rain that also triggered landslides.

Avalanches and landslides are common in the Himalayan region, which is divided between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said at least 10 people, including soldiers, were killed after several avalanches hit the area.

Extreme weather has killed more than 110 people across Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan in recent days.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Pakistani Judges Rule Court In Musharraf Case Was 'Unconstitutional'

FILE: Former Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf gestures during a press conference.

ISLAMABAD -- A Pakistani tribunal has ruled that the formation of a special court that has handed former military ruler Pervez Musharraf a death sentence was “unconstitutional.”

It was not immediately clear whether the January 13 ruling by the Lahore High Court would automatically nullify Musharraf’s death sentence on treason charges.

Musharraf ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008 and is currently receiving medical treatment in the United Arab Emirates.

The 76-year-old is the first military ruler to stand trial in Pakistan, where the military maintains a strong influence.

He was sentenced to death in absentia by a special court in December on treason charges stemming from his imposition of a state of emergency in 2007.

Musharraf has slammed the case against him as a "vendetta," while the military accused the court of ignoring legal processes and defended Musharraf's patriotism.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government also questioned the fairness of the trial and said it had found "gaps and weaknesses" in the sentence.

Severe Weather Kills At Least 15 In Southwestern Pakistan

FILE: Snow in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan Province.

ISLAMABAD -- Authorities in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan have declared a state of emergency in seven districts after snowstorms and heavy rains killed at least 15 people over the past two days.

Local officials say the 15 victims died when the roofs of their homes collapsed.

Thick layers of snow led to the closure of highways connecting the provincial capital, Quetta, with other cities, local rescue chief Imran Zarkoon told RFE/RL.

A number of passenger vehicle and trucks carrying goods were stranded in remote mountainous areas due to the blockages, Zarkoon said.

On January 12, authorities in neighboring Afghanistan said at least 19 people had been killed as a result of heavy snowfall and low temperatures, bringing to 24 the overall death toll from this year's cold snap.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan

Pakistani Foreign Minister To Hold Talks In Tehran Amid Spiraling Tensions

FILE: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (R) shakes hands with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Islamabad, May 2019.

Pakistan's foreign minister is set to hold talks with top Iranian officials in Tehran amid spiraling tensions in the region following the U.S. drone killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

The January 12 visit by Shah Mehmood Qureshi follows protests two days earlier in the Pakistani city of Peshawar by hundreds of Shi'ite Muslims outraged by Soleimani's killing.

Pakistan, which shares a border with Iran, has tried to balance its relations with Tehran for decades, even as it cultivates strong ties with Saudi Arabia, and, in the past, the United States.

Qureshi will convey to Iran "Pakistan's readiness to support all efforts that facilitate resolution of differences and disputes through political and diplomatic means," the Foreign Ministry said.

"Recent developments seriously endanger peace and security in an already volatile region and underscore the need for immediate and collective efforts for a peaceful resolution," the ministry said in a statement.

After meeting Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, Qureshi will visit Saudi Arabia.

Qureshi is also scheduled to visit the United States.

Based on reported by AFP

Pakistan Mosque Blast Kills 15, Including Senior Police Officer

Soldiers stand guard at the premises of a mosque after a bomb blast in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan Province.

QUETTA -- A senior police officer and 12 other people have been killed in a bomb blast in the Pakistani southwestern city of Quetta, officials say.

Police said more than 10 people were also wounded in the January 10 explosion, which took place during evening prayers at a mosque in a satellite town of the capital of Balochistan Province.

A deputy superintendent of police was among those killed.

Some of the wounded were said to be in a critical condition.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Resource-rich Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has been plagued by sectarian violence, Islamist militant attacks, and a separatist insurgency that has led to thousands of casualties since 2004.

On January 7 in Quetta, a bomb blast hit a paramilitary force vehicle, killing two troops.

Pakistan Bomb Attack Kills Two, Wounds 16

A man injured in a bomb explosion is treated at a hospital in Quetta, Balochistan on January 7.

Two people were killed and 16 others were injured in a bomb blast in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, officials say.

Provincial police chief Abdul Razzq Cheema said on January 7 that an explosive-laden motorbike blew up as a vehicle carrying security forces was passing by.

Two security-force personnel were among those injured.

The attack was claimed by Jamaat ul-Ahrar (JuA), a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban.

Quetta is the capital of the resource-rich Balochistan Province, which borders Afghanistan.

The province has been plagued by sectarian violence, Islamist militant attacks, and a separatist insurgency that has led to thousands of casualties since 2004.

Pakistani Military Jet Crashes, Two Pilots Killed

FILE: A Pakistan Air Force jet takes off in 2013.

A Pakistani jet crashed during training on January 7 in the eastern Punjab Province, killing the two pilots, the military said.

The FT-7 jet trainer went down in an open area and caused no damage on the ground, the air force said in a statement.

It said a probe had been opened to determine the cause of the crash, which occurred close to the district of Mianwali, 300 kilometers from Lahore.

Pakistani authorities rarely release details of military training crashes, which are relatively common.

In October, a trainer aircraft crash-landed in a field near Wazirabad in Gujranwala district. Both pilots aboard the plane survived.

In July, 19 people died when a Pakistani military aircraft crashed into a residential area on the outskirts of the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan's air force has been on high alert since February, when Indian jets struck targets inside Pakistan.

The strikes targeted Pakistan-based militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir.

At the time, Pakistan retaliated and shot down two Indian Air Force planes. One Indian pilot was captured and later released. But tensions have continued to remain high between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the Kashmir region, claimed by both sides since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

With reporting by AP and

Pakistani Lawmakers Approve Extending Term Of Powerful Army Chief

FILE: General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Pakistan's lower house of parliament has approved legislation that would extend Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa's term by another three years.

Passage by the chamber on January 7 came despite the objections of some political parties that accuse Pakistan's military of heavy-handed tactics in its anti-militant operations along the border with neighboring Afghanistan.

The extension must still be approved by the upper house of parliament in Islamabad, which is expected to support the measure.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's government approved the extension for Bajwa in August, citing a worsening national-security situation with neighboring India to justify the extension at the end of Bajwa's initial three-year term.

But in November, the Supreme Court struck down the extension -- ordering the government and army to produce legal provisions and arguments for the reappointment.

Khan's government responded by drafting legislation that the lower house approved on January 7, clearing the way for the extension after the expected approval by the upper house.

Pakistan's two main opposition parties have a long history of clashing with the military, but backed the extension in an apparent attempt to avoid a politically damaging confrontation.

Two smaller parties and some members of parliament from Pakistan's northwestern districts along the Afghan border opposed the extension.

They accuse Pakistan's military of committing rights abuses during its anti-militant operations. The army rejects such accusations.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal and Reuters

Pakistani Taliban Commander Reportedly Killed In Afghanistan

Afghan government officials met with refugees from Waziristan in the Gulan camp on December 4.

A key commander of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been shot dead at a refugee camp in southeastern Afghanistan, a Pakistani security source and a tribal elder have told RFE/RL.

A security official in the South Waziristan tribal district, in northwestern Pakistan, who requested anonymity said Qari Saifullah Mehsud was killed in his residence in the Gulan refugee camp overnight on December 28-29.

Daud Mehsud, a tribal elder at the camp, told RFE/RL on December 30 that the two gunmen had been "guests" at the TTP commander's home for several days before they killed him and fled.

A provincial police spokesman, Haider Adil, confirmed a killing but did not confirm the identity of the victim. He said a "criminal" case had been launched.

Mehsud was buried in the Gurbaz district of Khost Province at around 3 p.m. local time on December 29, the tribal elder added.

The TTP has not issued any statement.

Qari Saifullah Mehsud had fled the Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan in 2014.

He had worked as a TTP spokesman in Kurram tribal district as well.

At Least Four Killed In Exchange Of Fire In Kashmir

Kashmiris collect their belongings amid the debris of their homes that were reportedly destroyed by cross border shelling from Indian troops, in Neelum Valley, situated at the Line of Control in the Pakistani administered Kashmir on December 23.

At least four people have been killed in an exchange of fire between Pakistani and Indian forces in the tense Himalayan region of Kashmir, the two sides say.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said on December 26 that two Pakistani soldiers were killed and claimed that three Indian troops were killed in the crossfire.

However, Indian Army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said an Indian officer and a civilian were killed in firing along the Line of Control, the de facto frontier that separates the two sides in the disputed region.

Exact details could not immediately be confirmed.

Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-led India have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two of which were over control of Kashmir, which is claimed in full by both countries.

A decision by New Delhi in August to revoke the special constitutional status of Indian-controlled Kashmir and impose a security lockdown sparked new tensions between the South Asian rivals.

Islamabad claims that New Delhi seeks to launch cross-border attacks on Pakistan to divert international attention from alleged human rights violations in Kashmir and tensions with its own minority Muslims.

New Delhi denies the allegations.

With reporting by AP

Pakistan Slams 'Arbitrary' U.S. Listing For Religious Freedom Violations

A Pakistani police commando stands guard outside a church during Christmas Mass in Lahore on December 25.

Pakistan has condemned being placed by the U.S. State Department on a list of countries violating religious freedom.

"Pakistan rejects the unilateral and arbitrary designation," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on December 24, calling the process "suspicious."

"This pronouncement is not only detached from ground realities...but also raises questions about the credibility and transparency of the entire exercise," the statement said.

On December 18, the State Department redesignated Pakistan along with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and five other nations as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom."

Muslim-majority Pakistan is often criticized for laws considered to be discriminatory against minorities, such as the death penalty for committing blasphemy.

Islamabad said the United States' listing highlighted a "selective targeting of countries," and was therefore "unlikely to be helpful to the professed cause of advancing religious freedom."

Pakistan was also enraged that the listing didn’t include neighboring India, where hundreds of thousands have been recently protesting against a new citizenship law thought to be discriminatory against Muslims.

The State Department once again also included Russia and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated "severe violations of religious freedom."

Washington said "these designations underscore the United States' commitment to protect those who seek to exercise their freedom of religion or belief."

Based on reporting by dpa and

Pakistani Lawyers On Strike Over Government, Army Objections To Musharraf Sentencing

A man watches a broadcast of the detailed verdict after sentencing former president Pervez Musharraf to death in a high treason case in Peshawar on December 19.

Lawyers in a northwestern Pakistani region have gone on strike to protest against what they called the "insulting attitude" of the country's military and the government toward the judiciary.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council called for a boycott of all legal proceedings on December 19 in a show of respect for the judiciary, which it said had been unlawfully criticized for the death sentence handed to former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf on treason charges for suspending the country's constitution in 2007.

A special court on December 17 announced the conviction and sentencing of the 76-year-old ex-strongman, who is now living in exile in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

In a statement, Pakistan's army took issue with what it called the "denial of the fundamental right to self-defense" and "concluding the case in haste."

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government also objected to the court ruling, claiming that the right to a “fair trial” was not provided to the defendant.

In a video statement issued from his hospital bed, Musharraf, who has dismissed the case against him as "baseless," said he would decide his future course of action after consulting his legal team.

Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, is the first military ruler to stand trial in Pakistan for overruling the constitution.

Taliban Gunmen Kill Two Pakistani Police Escorting Polio Team

A policeman guards a health worker as she gives a polio vaccination to a child in Peshawar on December 16.

Taliban militants in Pakistan have shot and killed two police officers who had been deployed to protect a polio vaccination team in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The unknown assailants opened fire as the officers were heading to a basic health unit in the Maidan area of Lower Dir district, local police told RFE/RL said on December 18.

They said a search was underway to find the gunmen.

Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said the militant group was behind the attack.

In the past decade, Taliban militants have killed scores of health workers and police guarding them because they believe anti-polio vaccination campaigns are intended to sterilize Pakistani children.

Pakistan, where polio is still endemic, regularly carries out anti-polio drives.

A five-day vaccination campaign launched this week is targeting more than 39 million children under the age of five, as the number of people affected by the crippling disease surged to 103 this year.

The number had fallen to eight in 2017 and 12 the following year, according to official figures.

Pakistan Lawyer Involved In Enforced Disappearances Cases Goes Missing

A lawyer known for pursuing cases of people allegedly kidnapped by the country’s security agencies was abducted from his residence, his family says.

Armed men in plainclothes overnight abducted Inamur Raheem, a retired colonel, from his house in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, his son Husnain Inam said on December 17.

Inam said a case has been registered but there was no progress so far.

He refused to speculate on who was responsible, but Pakistani security agencies are often blamed for such abductions targeting journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists.

In September, Pakistan's Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances reported that 2,228 individual cases remained unresolved.

Reports said Raheem, described as a vocal critic of security agencies, had reported being harassed by security agencies.

In recent years, he has represented several people detained by the country's spy agency.

The lawyer recently challenged the appointment of a retired general at the helm of the newly formed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority, according to the dpa news agency.

Based on reporting by dpa and AP

Pakistan Launches Vaccination Campaign Amid Rise In Polio Cases

A health worker administers polio vaccine to children during a five-day countrywide vaccination campaign in Peshawar on December 16.

Pakistan has launched a five-day anti-polio vaccination campaign as the number of people affected by the crippling disease surged to more than 100 this year.

Starting on December 16, tens of thousands of polio workers are due to go door-to-door to administer the vaccine to more than 39 million children under the age of 5, according to Pakistan’s polio eradication program.

The campaign will focus on the eastern province of Punjab, where more than 19 million children are to be vaccinated.

Ahead of the launch of the vaccination drive, health officials said that three infants from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab were found to be suffering from polio, an infectious disease that can lead to irreversible paralysis and death.

Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only countries in the world where polio is still endemic.

In Pakistan, cases peaked at 306 in 2014, but there had been a sharp reduction since, with the number falling to eight in 2017 and 12 the following year, according to official figures.

However, Abdul Basit, a spokesman of the polio eradication center in the northwestern city of Peshawar, told RFE/RL that 104 new cases have been reported across the country so far this year, 74 of them in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Many of the new cases were attributed to the refusal of parents to allow the children to receive the anti-polio vaccine.

In a tweet, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq called on parents to “welcome the polio workers as they vaccinate our children against polio.”

“Let us work together for a polio free Pakistan and a polio free world #endpolio,” she wrote.

Rashid Razzaq, the provincial coordinator for the National Emergency Operation Center in Balochistan, said that “strict” measures had been taken to provide “complete security to polio workers,” adding that they will be protected by police and paramilitary forces.

In the past decade, Taliban militants have killed scores of health workers and police guarding them because they believe anti-polio vaccination campaigns are intended to sterilize Pakistani children.

In April, a vaccination campaign ran into trouble when a viral fake video purported to show schoolchildren falling ill after they were given the vaccine.

With reporting by Dawn

Watchdog Demands Pakistan End Silence On 'Disappeared' Activist

Idris Khattak

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging the Pakistani authorities to provide information about the whereabouts of a political activist and human rights activist who has been missing for one month.

Idris Khattak was abducted by unidentified armed men who intercepted his car in the Swab district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) watchdog believes he was forcibly disappeared, while the state was "unwilling to acknowledge detaining someone or provide their location," HRW said in a statement on December 12.

Pakistan's security forces "have long carried out enforced disappearances with impunity," the New York-based group said, adding that the practice increased "the risk of torture and extrajudicial execution." Khattak, 56, is a member of the National Party and a freelance researcher focusing on human rights issues in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A court in the provincial capital, Peshawar, has ordered the government to report on the activist's whereabouts -- but only by January 13 next year.

"Even with this directive, police often refuse to provide information on a detainee's whereabouts and reasons for detention," according to HRW.

In September, Pakistan's Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances reported that 2,228 individual cases remained unresolved.

The government's "immediate and full response to Khattak's disappearance would be a step towards recognizing that this terrible problem needs to be addressed," HRW said.

Thirteen Dead In Pakistan After Truck Collides With Passenger Bus

A passenger bus caught fire after a collision with a pickup truck loaded with fuel in Pakistan on December 13, killing 13 people, officials said.

The accident occurred in the southwestern province of Balochistan.

Atiqur Rahman Shahwani, the administrative chief of Qilla Saifullah district where the accident happened, told RFE/RL that a pickup truck loaded with diesel fuel collided with a passenger bus near the town of Kan Mehtarzai.

Fire broke out after the collision, Shahwani said, adding that most of the bodies are unidentifiable.

Muhammad Hashim, a paramilitary police official, said the dead include women and children.

Police said the diesel fuel transported by the pickup truck was being smuggled from neighboring Iran, a common practice due to significant price differences in the two countries.

Only one passenger in the bus managed to survive by jumping out immediately after the collision, police said.

With reporting by dpa and

Pakistani Militant Accused Of Mumbai Attacks Faces Terror-Financing Charges

Hafiz Saeed (file photo)

A Pakistani court has indicted Islamist militant Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of deadly 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, on terrorism-financing charges, a government prosecutor and a security official said on December 11.

Muhammad Tahir, an official of the Counter-Terrorism Department of the Punjab police, told RFE/RL that Saeed appeared before the court in Lahore, eastern Pakistan, under strict security.

The charges were read as Saeed was present in the court, prosecutor Abdur Rauf Watto said.

Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or the Army of the Pure, a militant group blamed by the United States and India for the Mumbai siege in which 160 people, including Americans, were killed.

Washington has long pressured Pakistan to try Saeed, who is designated a terrorist by the United States and the United Nations.

Saeed's lawyer, Imran Gill, said his client pleaded not guilty.

Pakistan's counterterrorism police arrested Saeed in July, days before a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The indictment came ahead of a world financial watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting early next year to decide whether to blacklist Pakistan for its failure to curb terror financing.

The United States has offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to the conviction of Saeed, who has been repeatedly detained and released over the past 10 years.

With reporting by Reuters

Court Orders Release Of Pakistan's Ailing Ex-President Zardari

Former Pakistani \president Asif Ali Zardari in June

A Pakistani court on December 11 ordered the release of former President Asif Ali Zardari on bail on medical grounds to allow him to seek medical treatment at a hospital of his choice in the country.

Zardari, the widower of the country's assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was arrested in June by Pakistan's anti-graft body in a multimillion-dollar money-laundering case.

He was expected to be released later on December 11.

Shortly after the court order, Zardari's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who heads the key opposition Pakistan People's Party, told reporters that once he recovers, his father will launch a campaign to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan's government.

Zardari, a lawmaker in the lower house of parliament, has been accused of having dozens of bogus bank accounts, a charge he denies, saying he was being politically victimized by Khan's government.

Khan came to power on a promise to fight corruption on all fronts.

Zardari became president in 2008, after Pakistan's former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign. He served until 2013.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Pakistani Soldiers, Militants Killed In North Waziristan Clash

Pakistani security forces have killed four suspected militants in the exchange of fire in the northwestern North Waziristan tribal district, officials say.

Security officials told RFE/RL that one army soldier was also killed in the December 5 clash, which took place in the Boya area.

Three soldiers were also wounded, they added.

A self-proclaimed spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed that the militants attacked a security checkpoint, killed three soldiers and wounded three more.

He said two attackers were also killed.

Pakistan launched a massive military operation in North Waziristan in 2014 to cleanse the region of the TTP and other militant groups.

But the region bordering Afghanistan has continued to be the scene of violent attacks, targeted killings, and land-mine blasts.

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