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Top Pakistani Court Sets Date For Hearing On Christian Woman

FILE: Pakistanis protest the release of Asia Bibi

Pakistan's Supreme Court will decide on January 29 whether to allow an appeal against its acquittal of a Christian woman at the center of a blasphemy row, a lawyer for the woman has said.

If the court refuses to allow the appeal, it will remove the last legal hurdle facing Asia Bibi, who remains in protective custody at a secret location.

Bibi was on death row for eight years for blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

The Supreme Court's decision in October to overturn her conviction ignited days of violent demonstrations, with Islamists calling for her killing, mutiny within the powerful military, and the assassination of the country's top judges.

The government has since launched a crackdown on the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan party -- the Islamist group driving the violent protests -- charging its leaders with sedition and terrorism.

But the authorities also agreed to allow a final review of the Supreme Court's judgement.

On January 29, "the court will determine if our appeal against her acquittal is admitted", Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer who filed the petition seeking an appeal, said on January 24.

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

With reporting by AP and AFP

Pakistan Launches New Polio-Vaccination Drive

FILE: A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccination to a child in Karachi (November 2018).

Pakistan has launched a new nationwide polio-vaccination campaign as part of the government's pledge to eradicate the disease in the country by the end of 2019.

Health Ministry spokesman Rana Safdar said on January 21 that the latest drive would target more than 39 million children under the age of 5 and involves more than 260,000 health workers.

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

In 2018, only a handful of new polio cases were reported in Pakistan, compared to more than 300 in 2014.

In the past, militants in Pakistan have targeted health workers because of a mistaken belief that the vaccine was aimed at making Muslim children sterile.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Visiting Pakistan, U.S. Senator Calls For Trump-Khan Meeting

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has said he will urge President Donald Trump to meet with the Pakistani prime minister to reset long-difficult U.S. relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke in Islamabad on January 20 after meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The comments come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.

"I think they will hit it off" if they meet as they have "similar personalities," said Graham, who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, of the proposed meeting between the U.S. president and Khan.

"With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship," he told a press conference.

The senator called for a "strategic engagement" between Washington and Islamabad that would include a free-trade agreement.

The United States and Afghanistan have repeatedly accused Pakistan of providing "safe havens" for the Taliban on its soil. Islamabad rejects the allegation.

Graham's trip to Pakistan coincided with a four-day visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, during which he met with Khan and the country's military chief General Qamer Javed Bajwa.

At the talks, Pakistan and the United States “reaffirmed their commitment to advance the Afghan peace process," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

Khalilzad has recently held a series of meetings with the Taliban's political office in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The Taliban have long refused to hold direct talks with Afghan officials, whom they dismiss as "puppets."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Taliban Denies Being Ready To Resume Afghan Peace Talks

The U.S. State Department's Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on January 17 to meet Pakistani authorities.

The Taliban has denied reports that it is prepared to resume talks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on ending Afghanistan’s 17-year war.

Pakistani media had reported that a meeting in Islamabad was possible following talks in the Pakistani capital between Khalilzad and senior Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, on January 18.

However, the Taliban ruled it out on January 19.

"We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on January 17 and met Imran Khan as well as the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi and other officials.

Khalilzad was named by the Trump administration four months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace.

The Afghan-born Khalilzad is a veteran U.S. diplomat. He served as President George W. Bush's ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Khalilzad Briefs Pakistani FM On Afghan Peace Efforts

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (R) meets with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi, in Islamabad on January 18.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi in Islamabad on January 18 to brief him on his recent efforts to resolve neighboring Afghanistan’s 17-year war, Pakistani officials said.

Qureshi assured Khalilzad of Pakistan's support for the peace process, which has suffered a setback because of the Taliban's refusal to talk directly to the Afghan government, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Washington hopes Pakistan can help end the conflict.

The Afghan government regularly accuses Pakistan of providing support to the Taliban. Pakistani officials deny this but say they have a degree of influence which they have been using to try to persuade the movement to accept peace talks.

On January 17, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and "expressed his gratitude for Pakistan's sincere facilitation of these efforts", according to a statement from the Pakistan government spokesman's office.

The two leaders also issued invitations to visit their respective countries and agreed "to remain engaged and create an environment for resolving all outstanding issues", it said.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Pakistan Court Orders Fresh Report On Mentally Ill Prisoner On Death Row

FILE: The Supreme Court building in Islamabad.

Pakistan's top court on January 14 ordered a fresh medical report into the condition of a mentally ill prisoner on death row, an NGO representing him said, days after his execution was temporarily suspended.

The case of Khizar Hayat, a former police officer sentenced to death in 2003 for killing a colleague and who has spent more than 15 years in custody, has attracted widespread attention from rights groups and the United Nations.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on January 12 suspended Hayat's execution.

"The case was adjourned until the Special Medical Board examines Khizar and files their report before the court," the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a rights organization that is representing Hayat, said in a press release.

It added that the court had "strongly reprimanded" jail authorities for failing to follow prison rules.

On January 13, UN experts had urged Pakistan against carrying out an "arbitrary execution."

"During his trial, no evidence or witnesses were called in his defense and no questions were asked regarding his mental health, although he was later diagnosed with a mental health condition and has been receiving treatment for the past 10 years," they said.

Government doctors had diagnosed Hayat as suffering from schizophrenia in 2008.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Pakistan's Top Court Stays Execution Of Mentally Ill Man

FILE: The Supreme Court building in Islamabad.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has suspended the execution of a former police officer who is mentally ill.

A two-judge panel is set to hear a petition to save Khizar Hayat's life by his mother on January 14, the court said.

Hayat was sentenced to death in 2003 over the shooting of a police officer and was first diagnosed as a schizophrenic in 2008 by prison medical authorities.

The man was scheduled to be executed on January 15.

Pakistan is a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international convention guaranteeing the dignity of individuals with disabilities.

The country lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty after Islamist militants killed more than 150 people at a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Turkey To Host Afghanistan, Pakistan For Taliban Peace Talks

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on January 2019.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country will host the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of efforts to end the Afghan Taliban's 17-year insurgency.

Erdogan, speaking at a joint news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 4, said the trilateral meeting would take place in Istanbul after local elections in March.

Khan told reporters he hoped the meeting would bring "badly needed peace" to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan is already helping dialogue between Taliban and [the] Americans," said Khan, who was making his first visit to Turkey since he came to power in August. "I look forward to the summit meeting in Istanbul, where we hope that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey will be able to help in this peace process."

The announcement of a trilateral meeting comes amid U.S. attempts to encourage negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held at least three rounds of talks with Taliban officials in recent months in the Middle East, although the militants have refused to talk directly to the Afghan government.

Based on reporting by AP and Daily Sabah

Pakistan Shoots Down Indian 'Spy Drone' Over Disputed Kashmir

Kashmiris face Indian policemen during a protest in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, on May 25, 2018.

Pakistan's military claims it has shot down a second Indian "spy drone" in two days flying in Pakistani airspace over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In a statement, Major General Asif Ghafoor, an army spokesman, said Pakistani troops downed the drone on January 2 along the Line of Control that divides the Pakistani and Indian-controlled portions of Kashmir.

Ghafoor tweeted a photo purportedly showing the wreckage, but did not provide further details.

Pakistan's military also reported shooting down an Indian drone on January 1.

There has been no comment from New Delhi.

Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India, both of which claim the territory in its entirety and have fought two wars over it since their independence from British rule in 1947.

Based on reporting by AP and Dawn

Three Afghan Coal Miners Killed In Pakistan

FILE: Pakistan has suffered many coal-mine disasters, a situation that critics have blamed on poor safety standards.

Three miners were killed after a gas explosion in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan.

The explosion occurred on December 27 in the Chamalang coal mine in the district of Duki in Balochistan Province.

Local officials said the miners had suffered severe burns and their bodies were recovered after an hours-long search by rescuers.

The three miners were identified as Mohammad Baseer, Mohammad Dawood, and Rahmatullah.

The three men were Afghan nationals.

The incident is just the latest fatal coal mining accident in Pakistan.

In September, nine coal miners were killed and four others injured when the roof of a mine collapsed in northwestern Pakistan.

In August, at least 18 miners were killed after a blast at a mine near the southwestern city of Quetta.

Pakistan has suffered many coal-mine disasters, a situation that critics have blamed on poor safety standards.

The Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation has said that an average of 200 miners a year die in accidents.

Based on reporting by Dawn and The Nation

Pakistan Denies Chinese Infrastructure Projects Have Military Dimensions

FILE: Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (November).

Pakistan has denied that a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project built and financed by China has a "military dimension."

A New York Times articleon December 19 reported that Islamabad and Beijing, key allies, were planning military projects as part of a massive infrastructure project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which seeks to connect China's western province of Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.

The CPEC effort consists of rail, road, and energy infrastructure and is part of China's $1 trillion Belt and Road initiative that stretches across some 70 countries.

The New York Times reported that the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials were finalizing a secret proposal to expand Pakistan’s building of Chinese military jets, weaponry, and other hardware.

The newspaper reported that the secret plan would also “deepen the cooperation between China and Pakistan in space, a frontier the Pentagon recently said Beijing was trying to militarize after decades of playing catch-up.”

But a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office said CPEC had no military dimensions.

“The CPEC has helped Pakistan improve its economy, particularly energy and infrastructure sectors have improved under it," said Mohammad Faisal during a press conference on December 28. "The CPEC is a bilateral economic project, which is not against any country."

Based on reporting by Dawn and The New York Times

Pakistan To Impose Travel Ban On Ex-President Zardari

FILE: Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (C) arrives to attend the first session of the lower house of parliament in Islamabad.

Pakistani authorities say they will impose a travel ban on former President Asif Ali Zardari while investigators complete a probe into allegations of money laundering.

The announcement came as the country marked 11 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari's wife.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters on December 27 that Zardari and 171 others were suspected of money laundering and using of fake bank accounts.

Chaudhry said all 172 would be put on the Exit Control List, barring them from leaving the country.

Zardari, who was president from 2008-13 and is currently a member of the lower house of parliament, is accused of laundering money through fake bank accounts and companies. He has denied any wrongdoing.

During a rally to mark his wife's death, Zardari blasted Prime Minister Imran Khan's government and said the allegations against him were "absurd."

Zardari, co-chairman of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, has long been the subject of corruption allegations and is widely known in Pakistan as "Mr.10 Percent."

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Alleged Mastermind Of Chinese Consulate Attack In Pakistan Reported Dead

Pakistani security personnel stand next to burned-out vehicles in front of the Chinese Consulate after an attack in Karachi on November 23.

The alleged mastermind of an attack by a Pakistani separatist group on the Chinese Consulate in the port city of Karachi last month has been killed, the group said.

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which is fighting for independence in resource-rich Balochistan, issued a statement on December 26 that Aslam Baloch, one of its leaders, had been killed.

"The important BLA commander Aslam Baloch, along with five associates in the organization, were martyred in an enemy attack on [December 24]," Jiand Baloch, a spokesman for the separatist group, said in a statement.

He did not say where the men were killed.

Balochistan is Pakistan's largest and poorest province, and it is confronted with ethnic, sectarian, and separatist insurgencies.

Last month, three attackers stormed the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, triggering a shootout that left the attackers, two police officers, and two civilians dead.

Security forces killed the three attackers, who were carrying explosives.

Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and financial center, has been marred for a long time by political, sectarian, and ethnic militancy.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Pakistani Foreign Minister In Moscow For Security Consultations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) welcomes Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during his visit to Moscow on December 26.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has traveled to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Speaking ahead of the December 26 talks, Qureshi said "Russia is an important partner for our country and plays an important role in promoting peace in our region."

Qureshi also thanked Lavrov for Moscow's role in conducting talks aimed at regulating the conflict in Afghanistan.

On November 9, Moscow hosted the second such meeting, involving more than 10 countries, including the United States and Pakistan.

"This was very important for us," Qureshi said.

Lavrov said establishing "goals of the Afghan settlement" was a key focus of the December 26 talks with Qureshi.

Qureshi warned of the "spread" of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group across the Middle East, saying it gave urgency to increased antiterrorism cooperation between Pakistan and Russia.

Based on reporting by TASS and gazeta.ru

Gunmen Kill Pakistani Politician In Karachi

Politicians mourn the death of former lawmaker Ali Raza Abidi in Karachi on December 25.

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Pakistani politician outside his home in the southern port city of Karachi on the evening of December 25, before fleeing the scene, police said.

Former lawmaker Ali Raza Abidi, 46, was critically wounded in the attack and he later died at a hospital, senior police officer Javed Alam Odho told reporters.

Abidi was alone in his car when the attack took place, authorities say, adding that a postmortem examination showed that he sustained four bullet wounds.

No one claimed responsibility for the killing. Police cordoned off the scene of the attack, local media reported.

Abidi, the former leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party, was elected to the National Assembly in 2013.

The party urged the authorities to immediately find and arrest Abidi’s killers.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and several other opposition politicians condemned the attack.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement party represents the Urdu speaking population and its two factions have an uneasy relationship with each other.

Based on reporting by AP and dawn.com

U.S. Envoy Doubts Afghan Taliban 'Genuinely Seeking Peace'

FILE: Zalmay Khalilzad

The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has questioned the Taliban's determination to end the 17-year war, after the group's representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.

"We have to wait and see their forthcoming steps," Khalilzad told Afghan news agency Ariana News on December 20, according to a translation of the interview provided by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were "genuinely seeking peace."

Khalilzad's remarks came after his latest face-to-face meeting earlier this week with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The UAE hailed the talks as "positive for all parties concerned."

But the Taliban would not meet with a 12-person Afghan delegation, Khalilzad said, describing the decision as "wrong."

"If the Taliban are really seeking peace, they have to sit with the Afghan government ultimately to reach an agreement on the future political settlement in Afghanistan," the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan said.

The Taliban has refused direct talks with the Afghan government, which it says is an American puppet.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

British Airways To Resume Flights To Pakistan After Decade Hiatus

British Airways halted services to Pakistan in 2008.

British Airways says it will resume flights to Pakistan next summer, a decade after suspending operations due to security fears.

The British carrier announced on December 18 that it will return in June 2019 with three weekly flights from London's Heathrow airport to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

British Airways halted services in 2008 in the wake of a suicide truck bombing that killed more than 50 people at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel.

The carrier's announcement was "a reflection of the great improvements in the security situation in Pakistan" in the years since, said Thomas Drew, Britain's top diplomat in Pakistan.

The resumption of flights will "give a particular boost to our growing trade and investment links," Drew also said.

Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari, a special assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, said his country was "becoming less isolated and more connected to the world, and that's the Pakistan we want to see."

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said the development was a result of the struggle of the Pakistani nation and security forces to restore peace and stability in the country.

Pakistan has battled homegrown militancy for nearly 15 years, with tens of thousands of people killed.

A little-known militant group claimed responsibility for the September 2008 devastating attack in Islamabad, but authorities blamed Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Britain is home to more than 1 million residents of Pakistani origin, making it the largest Pakistani diaspora community in Europe.

Pakistan International Airlines is currently the only carrier with direct flights between the two countries.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and ReutersLon

Pakistani Army Chief Confirms Death Sentences For 15 Militants

FILEL: Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Qamar at the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23.

Pakistan's army chief has approved death sentences for 15 militants convicted by military courts of playing a role in recent attacks that killed 32 security forces and two civilians.

A statement from Pakistan’s military about the December 16 ruling did not say when the executions would take place.

The statement says General Qamar Javed Bajwas also approved prison terms for 20 alleged militants who have been charged with attacking security forces and Christians in Pakistan, and with destroying educational institutions.

Pakistan lifted a moratorium on the death penalty after a 2014 militant attack on a school in Peshawar that killed more than 150 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Pakistan on December 16 is marking the fourth anniversary of the Peshawar Army Public School attack.

Based on reporting by AP and Dawn

Six Paramilitary Soldiers Killed In Attack In Southwestern Pakistan

FILE: Paramilitary soldiers inspect the site of an attack in Balochistan.

At least six paramilitary troops were killed in southwestern Pakistan on December 14 when their convoy came under attack in a mountainous area near the border with Iran in the southwestern province of Balochistan, officials said.

Balochistan has been the theater of several attacks on security personnel recently, but the number of large-scale incidents has decreased significantly since 2016.

Six members of the Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary force in charge of security in the region were killed in "heavy" firing along a mountainous stretch of road in the Kech district, the province's information minister, Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, said.

"Six FC men embraced martyrdom while 14 others were wounded in the gun attack," Buledi said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Islamist militants linked to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic State have been operating in the mineral-rich province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan. An indigenous ethnic Baloch insurgency is under way against the central government.

Last month, three men from the separatist Baloch Liberation Army stormed the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan's southern metropolis of Karachi, killing four people, including two police officers.

China is investing in the area under a $54 billion project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which aims at upgrading infrastructure, power, and transport links between its western Xinjiang region and Pakistan's Gwadar port.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Malala Honored By Harvard University For Efforts To Aid Girls' Education

Pakistani education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai (file photo)

Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai has been honored by Harvard University in the United States for her work promoting girls' education.

The 21-year-old Malala, who as a teen in her home country survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, received the 2018 Gleitsman Award from Harvard's Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 6.

"Malala speaks powerfully to the strength and perseverance of women and girls who are oppressed," said David Gergen, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Center for Public Leadership.

The award provides $125,000 for activism that has improved quality of life around the world.

Malala, now a student at Oxford University in Britain, was recognized for her global efforts to support schooling for children with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Based on reporting by AP and The Hill

Six Charged in Pakistan Over Murder Of Infant On Faith Healer's Orders

FILE: Resecue workers and security officials gather around the bodies of the disciples who were killed by a faith healer in the eastern province of Punjab.

Police in Pakistan’s Punjab Province have arrested six people in connection with the murder of an infant girl, including the father of the victim, after a faith healer allegedly advised the group to kill the toddler.

Police in Sargodha say others arrested in the case include the victim’s grandmother and aunt on the father’s side of the family.

They are alleged to have slit the infant girl’s throat after a faith healer told them their family was being disturbed by ghosts because of the girl.

Police spokesman Muhammad Sarfaraz said the faith healer was “on the run” and was being sought by authorities on December 3.

Dawn newspaper reported the mother of the victim has filed a case seeking divorce.

She also told the newspaper that the faith healer had previously harmed her daughter.

Based on reporting by dpa and Dawn.com

Pakistan To Charge TLP Leaders With Terrorism, Sedition

FILE: Khadim Hussain Rizvi

Pakistan will charge the detained leaders of a hard-line Islamist group with terrorism and sedition, the government said on December 1.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the leader of the Tehrik-e Labaik (TLP) party, cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and two other TLP leaders have been booked under the charges, which could carry a life prison term.

Rizvi and more than 3,000 of his supporters were arrested during violent demonstrations following the October 31 acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case.

Rizvi and the other TLP leaders are accused of inciting violence and making incendiary comments about the judiciary and the military.

With reporting by Dawn and AP

Pakistani Rupee Hits Record Low Against U.S. Dollar

FILE: Passersby walk past an advertisement board with photos of Pakistani rupee at a money exchange along a sidewalk in Karachi, Pakistan (June 2018).

The Pakistani rupee has plunged to a record low against the U.S. dollar amid a financial crisis.

The rupee traded at 143 to the dollar on November 30 as Pakistan struggled with chronic inflation and dwindling foreign-currency reserves.

The rupee has plunged about 15 percent since parliamentary elections in July and around 36 percent over the past year.

Pakistan secured $6 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia and struck a 12-month deal for a cash lifeline during Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Riyadh in October.

Despite the pledges, Pakistan is still negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $6 billion bailout.

The IMF and World Bank forecasts suggest the Pakistani economy is likely to grow by 4 to 4.5 percent this fiscal year compared to 5.8 percent growth in the last fiscal year.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

UNESCO Recognizes Tradition Of Pakistan's Pagan Kalash Tribe

FILE: Kalash girls sitting outside their home in Kalash Valley, Chitral district in northwestern Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed a tradition of the minority Kalash community in Pakistan on the list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.

The Kalash, a tiny pagan tribe, is a distinct religious and ethnic group based in the remote mountains of northwestern Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

In a statementon November 29, UNESCO recognized the Kalash tradition of Suri Jagek, translated as "observing the sun," as a living heritage whose viability was under threat.

UNESCO said Suri Jagek was a "traditional Kalash meteorological and astronomical knowledge system and practice -- enacted predominantly in the Hindu Kush mountain range -- based on the observation of the sun, moon, stars, and shadows with respect to the local topography."

The method is used to measure appropriate times for sowing seeds and predict natural disasters, besides being the basis of the Kalash calendar, UNESCO said.

The Kalash, which number around 4,000 people, consider themselves descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers, and have lived mostly in isolation since the Macedonian warrior king invaded the region more than 2,300 years ago.

IS Claims 'Suicide' Attack On Market In Pakistani Tribal District

A man injured in a blast in Orakzai lies at a hospital bed after he was brought for treatment in Peshawar on November 23.

Islamic State (IS) extremists have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that destroyed a market in Pakistan's northwestern Orakzai tribal district, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 50.

Police had initially said that a bomb hidden in a box of vegetables exploded in the crowded marketplace on November 23 in the town of Klaya near the border with Afghanistan.

The town is in a Shi'a-dominated part of the Orakzai district, which was one of seven autonomous tribal regions in Pakistan until earlier in 2018, when it was merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

In a statement issued on November 24 on the IS militant website Amaq, the group claimed the blast was caused by an IS suicide bomber.

IS also claimed 57 Shi'ite Muslims were killed and 75 were wounded by the blast.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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