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Former Senior Pakistani Police Officer Killed In Shooting

FILE: Pakistani police guard the site of a shooting incident in Quetta.

Pakistani police say gunmen shot dead a former senior police officer in the southwestern city of Quetta.

Quetta police chief Abdur Razzaq Cheema said the assailants fired on and critically wounded Naeem Kakar on November 17 in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan Province.

Cheema said the gunmen, who were on motorcycles, escaped the scene.

Kakar was the former deputy inspector general of the provincial police's crime unit, which has been key in fighting militants and criminals.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, although similar assaults in the past have been blamed on Pakistani Taliban militants.

Balochistan has also been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch separatist groups. The incident came after the recent abduction and killing of senior Pakistani police officer Tahir Khan Dawar.

Reported missing in Islamabad on October 26, his body was located in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan on November 13.

Based on reporting by AP, Geo TV, and Dawn

Bombing At Karachi Marketplace Kills At Least Two

FILE: Pakistani rangers inspect the site of a bomb blast in Karachi (2016).

Pakistani police say a roadside bomb in the southern port city of Karachi has killed at least two people and wounded at least five others.

The blast on November 16 reportedly damaged buildings and triggered panic in the densely populated Malir district.

"A timed device planted underneath a push-cart exploded with a big bang, killing two people and wounding eight others," senior police official Irfan Ali Bahadur told AFP.

Police said vendors at a makeshift market were selling fruit and other items of daily use when the bomb went off nearby. Dozens of people were present at the time.

Police said the dead and wounded were transported to hospitals. At least two of those injured were in critical condition.

Police cordoned off the area after the explosion and bomb disposal officials were called to the scene.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from any group.

Karachi is the capital of Pakistan's southern Sindh Province, where outlawed Islamic militant groups maintain a presence.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Pakistani Government Official Reported Missing Releases Video Statement

Neither Muhammad Ayaz Khan's family in Islamabad nor his relatives in Dera Ismail Khan has issued a statement regarding the video.

A Pakistani government official who was reported missing in Islamabad earlier on November 16 has released a brief video statement in which he claimed he was visiting relatives in the country's northwestern Dera Ismail Khan district.

Muhammad Ayaz Khan, the director of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), failed to show up at home on November 15 after leaving his office.

Muhammad Hassan, Khan's brother-in-law, told RFE/RL on November 16 that Khan's wife had been in mobile-phone contact with her husband until late on November 15 when the device was apparently shut off.

Police also told RFE/RL that Hassan's car was found outside the Islamabad offices of the CDA, which provides municipal services in Pakistani capital.

Later on November 16, Khan released a video message in which he said he was safe and sound and visiting relatives in Dera Ismail Khan district. He said that he had lost his mobile phone and asked that people not spread rumors that he had been abducted or was missing.

However, nothing in the video proves that it was shot in Dera Ismail Khan district, and Khan did not explain how he traveled so far without his car.

Neither Khan's family in Islamabad nor his relatives in Dera Ismail Khan has issued a statement regarding the video.

Islamabad police told RFE/RL they believed Khan was in Dera Ismail Khan, but did not explain the basis for that conclusion.

Khan's reported disappearance comes days after the body of a senior Pakistani police officer, who was reported missing in Islamabad on October 26, was located in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan on November 13.

On November 15, Afghan officials handed over the body of Tahir Khan Dawar to Pakistani authorities at the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan, according to local media reports.

Dawar sent a text message to his wife on October 27 claiming that he was fine and was in the Jehlum district of eastern Pakistan.

With reporting by Dailypakistan.com.pk

Pakistan Says It Recovered Five Of 12 Iranian Guards Abducted Near Border

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (left) with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad.

Pakistan on November 15 said its security forces safely recovered five of the 12 Iranian guards abducted near the countries' shared border a month ago.

The extremist group Jaish al-Adl had claimed responsibility for the abduction of Iranian security personnel, which included member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

"With concerted efforts of Pakistani law enforcement agencies and armed forces, five abducted Iranian guards have been safely recovered," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Muhammad Faisal said.

The Iranians, including intelligence officers, were abducted near Lulakdan, a village 150 kilometers southeast of Zahedan, the capital of Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

Faisal said the rescued guards "are in good health, being handed over to Iranian authorities."

He added efforts were being made "to recover the other guards."

Iranian media quoted IRGC Chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari as confirming the return of five of the guards.

Pakistan briefed Tehran about "active efforts" to locate the abducted guards during two visits by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Islamabad in the past month.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi blamed the kidnapping on "our common enemies unhappy with the existing close, friendly relations between Pakistan and Iran."

Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province has long been a flashpoint, with Pakistan-based Baluchi separatists and militants carrying out regular cross-border raids against Iran.

The province has a large, mainly Sunni Muslim ethnic Baluchi community which straddles the border.

Jaish al-Adl, formed in 2012, is a successor to the Sunni extremist group Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which has carried out a spate of attacks on Iranian security forces in recent years in Sistan-Baluchistan.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Netherlands Sends Pakistani Embassy Staff Home After Receiving Threats

Pakistani lawyer Saiful Mulook

The Netherlands says it has recalled staff from its embassy in Pakistan after receiving threats for providing shelter to the lawyer of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy.

"Unfortunately, threats have been made against the Netherlands, Dutch diplomats," Foreign Minister Stef Blok told NPO radio on November 12. He said "a large number of staff" returned to the Netherlands.

The lawyer, Saiful Mulook, cited death threats in fleeing to the Netherlands soon after the Pakistani Supreme Court decision on October 31 acquitting Asia Bibi of blasphemy. The Dutch government said it had offered him temporary shelter.

Hard-line Islamists in Pakistan have blocked streets and called for the killing of several people connected with the Bibi case, including the judges who acquitted her.

Last week, the Dutch Embassy in Pakistan said it had temporarily halted issuing visas "due to circumstances beyond our control."

Also last week, the Netherlands said its ambassador, Ardi Stoios-Braken, faced "threats" in Pakistan over "blasphemous depictions" by right-wing legislator Geert Wilders on Twitter.

Wilders has recently posted images of the Prophet Muhammad on the social network -- something which is considered taboo by Muslims.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and spent eight years on death row before being acquitted.

The militant Tehrik-e-Labaik (TLP) party took to the streets after her acquittal and blocked main cities and highways for three days.

The protests ended after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan agreed not to block a petition to review Bibi's case and ensure she doesn't leave the country until the review is completed.

Pakistani officials have said Bibi was released from prison but is in a secure location while the court reconsiders her case.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Pakistan Asks Twitter To Take Down 'Fake' Postings Of Bibi Abroad

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry

Pakistan's government has asked Twitter and other social-media networks to take down what it says are "fake" images showing a Christian woman recently acquitted of blasphemy outside the country.

The government said on November 12 that the images are false because Asia Bibi remains in Pakistan at an undisclosed location because of death threats against her from hard-line religious groups.

Some rights activists said the government's efforts to shut down social-media postings have gone beyond allegedly fake images of Bibi, however, and are targeting social justice advocates as well.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said one "fake" posting the government is concerned about claims to show Bibi meeting Pope Francis. The photo is actually of Bibi's daughter from two years ago.

Chaudhry said the images misidentifying Bibi prompted death threats against a lawmaker in one photograph, Fazal Khan from the ruling Tehrik-e-Insaf Party. The lawmaker's constituency is in a deeply conservative region in the country's northwest.

"People can even be killed because of such fake postings," Chaudhry told AP. The pictures were widely circulated on social media in Pakistan.

"We are trying to seek cooperation from Twitter and Facebook against such fake news," Chaudhry said.

Hard-line Islamists held mass protests after Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Pakistani Supreme Court on October 21. They have demanded her public execution and have filed a petition to repeal her acquittal.

The government says Bibi has been released from prison, but she will remain in Pakistan until the legal review process is finished. She has been offered asylum by several European countries.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned hard-line groups against whipping up sentiment against Bibi and he has defended the Supreme Court judges who acquitted her, who have also received death threats.

Blasphemy is a highly charged issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can incite lynchings.

With the government is seeking to shut down what it sees as inflammatory postings on social networks, two Pakistani rights activists said on November 12 that they had been warned by Twitter about content the government found objectionable.

The warnings came a week after Twitter blocked the account of hard-line cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi because of his death threats against the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Bibi, including calling on the judges' servants to kill them.

Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer and activist, said her tweets were not the same as Rizvi's since they did not advocate violence. She said she believes the government is trying to quash legitimate dissent.

Twitter said it lets users know when it receives a government request to remove their content for violations of law or the company's terms of service.

"In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time," the company said.

Gul Bukhari, who was briefly abducted in July from a military cantonment in the eastern city of Lahore, said one of her e-mail warnings from Twitter referred to a tweet that criticized the government's lack of action against Rizvi.

In a reply to Twitter, Bukhari said Rizvi's speeches violated the law because he was inciting violence against the judges.

"In my tweet, I am asking the government to take action against him. In which world is that illegal?" she asked.

Chaudhry told Reuters his office was only "trying to establish close coordination" with Twitter to curb "hate speech and death threats." He did not directly respond to questions about the activists' cases.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Pakistan Begins Talks With IMF On Three-Year Bailout Package

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Pakistan has begun talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a possible bailout package to help the country overcome a deepening economic crisis.

Finance Ministry spokesman Noor Ahmad said on November 7 that Pakistan expected to receive a three-year assistance package from the international lender of last resort.

The talks on what would be the 13th IMF bailout package since the 1980s are scheduled to finish on November 20. Islamabad last received an IMF bailout of $6.6 billion in 2013.

Hours ahead of the IMF delegation's arrival in Islamabad, Finance Minister Asad Umar announced that an immediate balance of payment crisis has been averted with the help of China and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan was facing a $12 billion financing gap for the current fiscal year. Umar told a press conference late on November 6 that Saudi Arabia had already committed $6 billion and another $6 billion would come from China.

Last month, Saudi Arabia announced it would lend $3 billion to Pakistan's central bank for a year to help maintain reserves at a safe level, and provide another $3 billion through deferred payments on oil purchases.

Chinese leaders pledged to help Pakistan during Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Beijing last week. Details of the Chinese assistance are still under negotiation.

Umar said Pakistan's finance secretary and central bank governor will travel to Beijing on November 9 to finalize terms of the assistance.

Khan's government has sought to minimize the amount borrowed from the IMF by getting loans from "friendly" countries.

The conditions the IMF typically attaches to its loans include such unpopular measures as devaluing the country's currency, balancing the budget with spending cuts and tax increases, and curbing imports to tame the trade deficit.

Pakistani officials are concerned tough IMF conditions would hit economic growth in the short term and prevent Khan from fulfilling populist campaign pledges.

Khan's government has pledged to create an "Islamic welfare state" and help build 5 million homes for the poor.

Pakistan's current account deficit widened by 43 percent to $18 billion in the last fiscal year and its budget deficit has ballooned to 6.6 percent of economic output, creating a financial crunch that economists say will require IMF intervention to overcome.

With reporting by dpa, AFP, and Reuters

Government Denies Christian Freed From Death Row Has Left Pakistan

Asia Bibi

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has denied reports that Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was acquitted of blasphemy last week, has left the country.

Bibi was freed from prison on November 7, according to her lawyer, Saiful Mulook, and the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.

"Asia Bibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place!" Tajani tweeted on November 7. "I thank the Pakistani authorities. I look forward meeting her and her family, in the European Parliament as soon as possible."

Mulook was quoted as saying Bibi was being flown out of Pakistan with her immediate family but he did not know where they were going.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told the media on November 8. "There is no truth in reports of her leaving the country -- it is fake news."

Unidentified security officials said Bibi was released from a prison in Multan, a city in southern Punjab Province, and was flown to an undisclosed location in Islamabad for fear of attacks on her, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.

Bibi, whose real name is Aasiya Noreen, had spent eight years on death row for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad before the Supreme Court overturned her conviction on October 31, triggering violent protests by hard-line Islamists calling for her execution.

In a deal with the hard-line Tehrik-e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party that ended the protests, the government on November 3 indicated that it would bar Bibi from traveling abroad pending a "review" of the Supreme Court's decision to acquit her.

Bibi, a mother of five, has denied the blasphemy charges against her.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, has pleaded for asylum from Western countries, saying his family was in great danger in Pakistan. Her lawyer, Mulook, has fled to the Netherlands.

On November 6, Italian officials said they were working to help relocate Bibi to a country where she and her family would be safe from death threats.

"We are working with other Western countries. We must do it discreetly and carefully," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told an Italian radio station.

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of blasphemy can lead to lynchings by mobs.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and the BBC

Italy Working To Find Safe Home In West For Pakistani Christian Woman

Many Pakistanis protested the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been charged with blasphemy. (file photo)

Italian officials say they are working to help relocate a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan to a country where she and her family would be safe from death threats.

"We are working with other Western countries. We must do it discreetly and carefully," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told an Italian radio station on November 6.

"I want women and children whose lives are at risk to be able to have a secure future, in our country or in other Western countries, so I will do everything humanly possible to guarantee that," he said.

Asia Bibi last week was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Pakistani Supreme Court, but her case prompted three days of protests by hard-line Islamist groups demanding that she and the judges who ruled in her favor be put to death.

Authorities arrested hundreds during the protests, which produced gridlock in major cities in Pakistan. But in a deal to end the demonstrations, the government agreed to keep Bibi in custody pending an appeal of the court decision.

Salvini, a populist politician known for his hard-line stance against illegal immigration, said Italy does not blame Pakistan's government for Bibi's plight. "The enemy is violence, extremism, and fanaticism," he told the radio station.

"Obviously this goes hand in hand with rejecting illegal immigration, which otherwise risks bringing chaos to Rome or Milan," he said.

Salvini spoke after the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Vatican organization which helps persecuted Christians, released a message from Bibi's husband.

"I ask and appeal to the Italian government to help me and my family leave Pakistan because we are in danger," Ashiq Masih was quoted as saying by the organization.

Masih said he has had trouble feeding his family because he fears being attacked if he leaves his place of hiding.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani -- an Italian- - tweeted that he invited Masih and his family to Brussels or Strasbourg to "discuss how I can concretely facilitate the release" of his wife.

"We have asked the Pakistani authorities to guarantee your safety and of those protecting you," Tajani wrote in a letter to Masih, promising his personal intervention in the affair.

Bibi was sentenced to death in 2011 by a district court in the central province of Punjab for allegedly committing blasphemy in a dispute with Muslim women while working at a farm. Bibi, who sat on Pakistan's death row for eight years, always denied the charges.

Meanwhile, Bibi's lawyer, who fled to The Netherlands earlier this week because of death threats, said on November 6 that he was seeking asylum there.

"I am waiting for an offer from the Dutch government," the Dutch news website NU.nl quoted lawyer Saiful Mulook as saying.

With reporting by AP, dpa, AFP, and Reuters

Husband Of Pakistan's Asia Bibi Pleads For Asylum

A Pakistani protestor holds an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi during a rally to protest the Supreme Court's decision to acquit Bibi of blasphemy.

The husband of a Pakistani Christian woman recently acquitted of blasphemy after eight years on death row has pleaded for asylum from Western countries, saying his family was in great danger in Pakistan.

"I am requesting [U.S.] President Donald Trump to help us to leave [the country], and I am requesting the prime minister of the U.K. help us and as far as possible grant us freedom," Asia Bibi's husband said in a video message, news agencies reported on November 4.

The husband, Ashiq Masih, also called on Canadian leaders for help.

Bibi, a 54-year-old mother of four, was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad -- a charge she has denied.

The case has attracted global attention, and several countries have offered Bibi asylum.

The Supreme Court overturned Bibi’s conviction on October 30, sparking three days of violent, nationwide protests by hard-line Islamists demanding Bibi’s execution.

The demonstrations mostly ended on November 2 after the government agreed to impose a travel ban on Bibi and to allow her case to be reviewed.

Criticism

The government is now facing criticism for making a deal with the radical Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan party (TLP) and for failing to take action against the leaders of the protests.

However, the Interior Ministry has promised to register cases against “all those miscreants who under the guise of peaceful protests caused destruction to property and harmed unarmed citizens."

Criminal cases have been registered against hundreds of demonstrators and protest organizers, Dawn newspaper reported on November 4.

Senior police officer Nayab Haider said that more than 150 people were arrested on charges of arson, vandalism, and violence during the demonstrations. He said that police were using video clips to identify those involved in assaults, torching property and vehicles, and blocking highways.

A government official estimated that the protesters caused around $1.2 billion in damages.

On November 4 in the southern port city of Karachi, some 2,000 supporters of an Islamic party held a protest march against Bibi’s acquittal but they remained peaceful.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of committing the crime can incite lynching.

Approximately 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy, according to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

With reporting by Dawn, AP, and The News

Pakistani Islamists To End Protests After Deal With Government

Hardline supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan violently protest in Karachi on November 2.

A Pakistani Islamist party says it will call off protests over the acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case, after the party reached a deal with the government on November 2.

Under the agreement, the government agreed to bar Asia Bibi, who has been on death row since 2010, from leaving the country.

"The party leaders have announced an end to protest sit-ins across the country. Workers have been asked to disperse peacefully," said Pir Ijaz Qadri, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party, which has largely led three days of protests in major Pakistani cities. The government confirmed the agreement.

Bibi, a mother of five, was accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

On October 31, a three-judge panel set up to hear the appeal ruled the evidence was insufficient.

Since the landmark ruling over Bibi’s acquittal, thousands of Islamists have rallied in Islamabad and other cities, demanding that the acquittal verdict be overturned.

Demonstrators blocked highways and damaged or set fire to dozens of vehicles.

Bibi's whereabouts were not known on November 2, with speculation rife that she would be secretly sent out of the country by the authorities.

The charge of blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan and critics say it is often misused to settle feuds and arguments.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters

At Least 17 Killed In Bus Crash In Northern Pakistan

FILE: Rescue officials gather around the wreckage of a passenger bus after an accident in southern Pakistan.

At least 17 passengers were killed when a bus plunged into a gorge in the Kohistan District of northern Pakistan.

Police officer Abdul Ghafoor said on October 28 that the bus was traveling to Rawalpindi from Ghiberti in Gilgit Baltistan when it tumbled into the deep gorge.

He said 17 bodies have been recovered but that the remoteness of the area has hampered rescue efforts.

Police said the bus may have been traveling at a high speed on the slippery road in the mountainous region when the accident occurred.

Pakistani roads are often the scene of deadly crashes blamed on poor road maintenance and drivers who often ignore traffic laws.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Pakistani Human Rights Activist Posthumously Wins UN Award

PAKISTAN -- Pakistani colleagues of lawyer and rights advocate Asma Jahangir mourn during her funeral in Lahore, February 13, 2018

Pakistan's late human rights activist Asma Jahangir has won the UN Human Rights Prize 2018.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, the president of the United Nations General Assembly, tweeted on October 26 that Jahangir, along with Rebeca Gyumi, the founder of a Tanzanian NGO, Brazilian lawyer Joenia Wapichana, and the Irish human rights organization Front Line Defenders won the prestigious UN award.

“I am proud to recognize the contributions of individuals and organizations that promote and protect human rights,” Espinosa wrote.

Jahangir, who was given the award posthumously, served as the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions from 1998 to 2004 and as the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief from 2004 to 2010.

Jahangir died in February at the age of 66 after she suffered a stroke.

The Human Rights Prize is awarded every five years, in accordance with the General Assembly's 1966 resolution.

Pakistani Premier To Visit China In Search For Financial Help

Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar speaks at a news conference in Islamabad on October 25.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit China next week as he continues his search for help propping up the nation's shaky finances, Pakistani authorities said on October 25.

Khan this week secured $6 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia to help stave off a widening balance of payment crisis.

He said in a televised address on October 24 that his goal is to reduce the size of any potential loan from the International Monetary Fund, which attaches stringent conditions to its loans.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said Khan will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on his November 2-5 trip to Beijing and the commercial hub of Shanghai.

"The visit will provide an opportunity for the two countries to review the entire spectrum of bilateral relations," with a special focus on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China's massive infrastructure project to connect its western Xinjiang region with the Arabian Sea via Pakistan, ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal told AFP.

Pakistan's deteriorating finances have raised concerns that portions of the ambitious project may have to be scaled back.

Analysts said Khan will be pushing for financial assistance from Beijing during the visit. China has provided Pakistan with loans in the past and has pledged to spend about $60 billion on infrastructure in Pakistan under its Silk Belt and Road initiative.

Since taking power in August, Khan has sought loans from what he has called "friendly" countries like China and Saudi Arabia, vowed to recover funds stolen by corrupt officials, and embarked on a populist austerity drive to raise cash.

Pakistan has gone to the IMF repeatedly for bailouts since the late 1980s.

The last time was in 2013, when Islamabad got a $6.6 billion loan to tackle a similar balance of payment crisis.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

Pakistan Frees Senior Taliban Commander In Possible Peace-Talks Bid

FILE: Afghan Taliban militants walk in the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Pakistan has released from detention a senior Afghan Taliban commander who had been arrested eight years ago, reports say.

The Associated Press quoted intelligence officials as saying on October 24 that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's co-founder and former second-in-command, was released “after high-level negotiations.”

Baradar served as the Taliban's second-in-command under Mullah Omar and coordinated the group's military operations in southern Afghanistan before his arrest in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

Reports said his release could be linked to U.S. efforts to revive peace talks between the militants and the Western-backed government in Kabul.

"He wasn't released because he was ill," a Taliban source told the BBC.

"In fact, Pakistan also wants him to play a role in peace talks,” the source added. “He is in good shape and is expected to play a role in the peace process."

Afghanistan’s TOLOnews quoted unidentified sources as saying Baradar was released along with two other senior members of the Taliban movement, identified as Mullah Abdul Samad Sani and Mullah Mohammad Rasul.

Afghan and Pakistani officials have not yet commented on the reports, which came after recent visits to Kabul by U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss peace talks.

They also followed a visit to Pakistan by the foreign minister of Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.

Based on reporting by AP, the BBC, and TOLOnews

Four Children Wounded In School Attack In Southwestern Pakistan

A schoolboy injured is being treated in Quetta's main hospital on October 24.

Four schoolchildren were wounded after unidentified gunmen opened fire at a school in the capital of Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan, authorities say.

Security officials said the four children sustained bullet wounds when attackers on a motorcycle fired at a public school located in Quetta’s Killi Shabo area, before escaping the scene.

The injured were immediately evacuated to the city's main hospital, the officials said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility.

Provincial Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan condemned the attack and ordered an investigation.

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.

However, attacks on schools are rare in the province.

Pakistani Police Clash With Protesters Angry Over Eviction

FILE: Pakistani policemen fire teargas shells towards protesters during a protest in Karachi.

Police in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, have clashed with local residents protesting their eviction from housing provided to government employees.

Television footage showed police officers in riot gear armed with batons charging at the protesters on October 24.

Water cannons were also used to keep the crowd at bay.

The protesters pelted the officers with stones, injuring four of them, according to a police spokesperson.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah later ordered the withdrawal of police from the area.

Some reports said the violence left at least 12 injured on both sides.

Police officer Shamael Riaz said more than a dozen protesters were arrested for obstructing police efforts to carry out eviction orders.

The Supreme Court in July ordered the eviction of alleged illegal occupants of housing allocated to government employees, including in a Karachi area called Pakistan Quarters.

Based on reporting by AP and Dawn

Oil Firm Employees, Escort Killed In Northwestern Pakistan

North Waziristan was a major bastion of Pakistani and foreign militants.

Three employees of an oil and gas company and their paramilitary escort were kidnapped and shot dead in the mountains of northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border, officials say.

Local officials said the abduction and killings occurred on October 23 in the North Waziristan tribal region, where the Pakistani military has been fighting against the Taliban and other militant groups for more than a decade.

The three employees of Maripur Oil and Gas Company and the member of the Frontier Corps paramilitary force were heading toward their office when they were kidnapped by unknown gunmen, local officials said.

Their bullet-riddled bodies were found near the village of Spinwam following a search operation, the officials added.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the incident.

Violence in Pakistan has declined in recent years following a series of military operations along the northwestern border with Afghanistan, but militant groups are still able to carry out deadly attacks.

With reporting by AFP and Dawn

Russian, Pakistani Forces Launch Joint Exercise In Northwestern Pakistan

Russian troops arrive at a Pakistani military base at an undisclosed location on October 22.

Around 200 Russian and Pakistani troops have kicked off annual joint exercises in the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in northwestern Pakistan.

A contingent of more than 70 mountain troops from a motorized rifle brigade based in the North Caucasus republic of Karachai-Cherkessia is participating in the Druzhba-2018 exercises, Russia's Southern Military District said in a statement on October 22.

The military exercises are set to run through November 4.

The Dryuzhba (Friendship) drills have been held annually since 2016. Last year, more than 200 troops took part in the exercises held in mountainous Karachai-Cherkessia.

The purpose of the war games is to strengthen cooperation between the two countries' militaries and exchange professional experience, particularly in counterterrorism.

There are Islamist militants in both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the North Caucasus.

Pakistan and Russia signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2014 that provides for cooperation on promoting international security.

The accord calls for the intensification of counterterrorism efforts and arms control activities as well as strengthening military cooperation and sharing experiences in counterterrorism operations.

Warm ties between Moscow and Pakistan's regional rival India go back to the Soviet era, but Russia has also sought to improve relations with Pakistan in recent years.

With reporting by TASS and Dawn

Six Killed As Truck, Gasoline-Laden Van Collide In Southwestern Pakistan

FILE. Burning fuel tankers in Balochistan Province.

Six people were killed when a truck and a van carrying gasoline collided in southwestern Pakistan and ignited the fuel, local officials say.

Police officer Abdullah Rind said three other people suffered serious burns in the October 23 collision on a highway in Balochistan Province.

Rind said the blaze spread to a nearby police post, and two officers also suffered burns.

Paramilitary forces reached the site after the accident, and helped bring the fire under control.

The van, which was travelling from the provincial capital, Quetta, was carrying smuggled gasoline, according to Rind.

Balochistan Province borders Iran, from where smuggling contraband fuel is common.

Based on reporting by AP and Dawn

Pakistani Leader Shuns Global Boycott Of Saudi Conference, Says 'We're Desperate'

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) on a previous visit to Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says he is attending an investment conference in Saudi Arabia boycotted by other world leaders because "we're desperate" for loans from the kingdom.

"The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity is because in a country of 210 million people, right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history," Khan told the Middle East Eye on October 22.

"Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the [International Monetary Fund], we actually won't have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we're desperate at the moment."

Other global leaders are boycotting the Saudi investment conference to protest the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

Khan told the Middle East Eye that he is concerned over the "shocking" death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, but said "we will wait for whatever the Saudi explanation is... We hope there is an explanation that satisfies people and those responsible are punished."

It is Khan's second visit to Saudi Arabia in just over a month. He has not as yet succeeded in securing significant financial assistance from Riyadh to stave off a looming balance of payments crisis.

The Independent Human Rights Commission, a Pakistani rights group, criticized Khan's decision to go to the Saudi conference, saying the government should have taken a clearer stand on Khashoggi's killing, and that "business interests" should not undermine the "right to dissent" and freedom of expression.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Pakistani Tribunal Upholds 10-Year Cricket Ban In Spot-Fixing Scandal

Suspended Pakistani cricketer Shahzaib Hasan leaves court (file photo)

An independent Pakistani cricket tribunal has upheld a 10-year ban from the sport against Pakistani player Nasir Jamshed over his role in Pakistan Super League fixing scandals.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said on October 22 that retired Justice Hamid Farooq found the punishment "perfectly justified" and that it should remain in force.

Jamshed, a 28-year-old left-handed opening batsman, was one of six Pakistani players fined and banned over fixing allegations at games in the United Arab Emirates in 2017.

Jamshed appealed in August against the verdict.

The cricket board charged Jamshed with violating seven of its anticorruption codes and being the main cricketer behind approaching and soliciting other players for spot-fixing.

Other Pakistan players who were fined and banned for spot-fixing include Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Irfan, and Shahzaib Hasan.

Unlike match-fixing, where the result of an entire game is fixed, spot-fixing refers to illegally fixing a specific part of a game.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Pakistani Rickshaw Driver Dies After Self-Immolation

A rickshaw in Pakistan (file photo)

A rickshaw driver who set himself on fire to protest against alleged extortion by police has died of severe burns in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi, authorities say.

Local officials said Mohammad Khalid succumbed to his injuries in a Karachi hospital on October 22, two days after setting himself on fire near a police station.

Reports said Khalid refused to pay a bribe to a traffic police officer who then fined the rickshaw driver a ticket amounting to a quarter of his daily earnings.

Following the incident, Karachi police chief Amir Ahmed Shaikh visited Khalid in hospital where he was receiving medical treatment, suspended the accused officer, and initiated an investigation into the case.

Shaikh also instructed police not to impose heavy fines on rickshaw drivers for traffic violations in the city.

A rickshaw is a three-wheeled vehicle carrying passengers.

Based on reporting by AP, The Express Tribune, and Dawn

Bus Collision Kills At Least 19 In Pakistan

Pakistani police say at least 19 people have been killed and 35 injured after two buses collided in the eastern province of Punjab.

Officer Imran Yaqoob said the collision took place late on October 21 over a bridge near the city of Dera Ghazi Khan, some 450 kilometers west of the provincial capital, Lahore.

Yaqoob said the death toll could increase as many of the wounded were in critical condition.

Yaqoob said both buses were speeding when they collided.

Local officials said 15 people were killed on impact, while four other succumbed to their injuries in hospital.

Traffic accidents are common in Pakistan, where poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles, and disregard for safety standards and traffic rules by drivers cause more than 5,000 deaths every year, according to government statistics.

Based on reporting by AP and Dawn

Pakistan Says It's Searching For 14 Abducted Iranian Border Guards

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has told his Iranian counterpart that security forces are searching for 14 Iranian border guards who Tehran says were abducted by militants this week.

Qureshi gave this assurance to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a phone call, the Pakistani ministry said on October 18.

"Qureshi expressed his serious concern over the incident," Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Faisal said at a weekly news briefing in Islamabad.

"Qureshi said that such incidents are the handy work of our common enemies unhappy with the existing close friendly relations between Pakistan and Iran," Faisal said.

Iranian media reported that two of those abducted were members of an elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence unit. The rest reportedly included seven who were volunteers in the Basij militia, as well as regular Iranian border guards.

The two ministers also discussed an exchange of fire between Afghan and Pakistani security forces on the Chaman border, Faisal said.

Faisal said top army generals of Pakistan and Iran are in close contact to coordinate their search efforts for the missing guards. Those efforts include enhanced air surveillance and troop deployment in the border area where the incident took place.

Tehran says the 14 members of its border force were seized on October 16 near the border with Pakistan.

No one has claimed responsibility, but Iranian media has blamed the abduction on Jaish al-Adl, an Al-Qaeda-linked group.

With reporting by AP

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