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Pilot Shot Down By Pakistan Returns To India

PAKISTAN - A man looks at television screen, airing live transmission of released Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan, at Wagah border, in Karachi, on March 1.

An Indian pilot captured by Pakistani forces on February 27 after his warplane was shot down in the disputed region of Kashmir has returned to India after being freed by Islamabad in a "peace gesture."

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossed into India at the Wagah crossing point on March 1 hours later than expected and sporting a black eye.

Varthaman's release came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made the announcement in a speech to Pakistan's parliament on February 28.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in Pakistani custody on February 27
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in Pakistani custody on February 27

Pakistan's military said its air force shot down two India Air Force jets in its airspace and captured a pilot on the ground in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 27.

India confirmed the loss of one of its MiG-21s and the capture of its pilot. It said it also foiled an attack by Pakistan warplanes over Kashmir and shot down one Pakistani plane.

Islamabad denies any of its aircraft were shot down.

The aerial confrontation came a day after India on February 26 struck what it said was a militant camp in northeastern Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 41 Indian troops in the India-controlled part of Kashmir

A Pakistan-based group, the Jaish-e Muhammad (JeM), claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack -- the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

India has accused Pakistan of having a "direct hand" in the attack and providing sanctuary to the militants.

Islamabad denies involvement.

India's air strikes in Pakistani territory on February 26 were the first since the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Pakistan Partly Reopens Airspace As Tensions With India Ease

FILE: Planes sit on the tarmac at the Islamabad International Airport.

Pakistan has reopened part of the country’s airspace amid further signs of de-escalation with rival India.

The country’s civil aviation authority said on March 1 that all domestic and international flights will be allowed to and from the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Quetta.

It said other airports, including the one in Lahore that borders India, will remain closed until March 4.

Islamabad closed its air space on February 27 after saying that Pakistan's military shot down two Indian warplanes and captured a pilot.

The pilot is expected to be handed back to India later on March 1, a move Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said was a gesture of peace.

On February 28, U.S. President Donald Trump said that Washington was mediating to help defuse the crisis, and that he expected "reasonably decent news."

The United Nations and world powers -- including the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union -- have expressed concerns that escalating tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi could spiral out of control.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Passengers Stranded After Pakistan Closes Airspace To Commercial Traffic

Stranded passengers wait at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport on February 28 after Thai Airways canceled 11 European-bound flights.

Pakistan’s decision to close its airspace amid rising tensions and aerial dogfights with neighboring India has left many tourists stranded in Asian cities when airlines were forced to cancel flights.

Thai Airways, Emirates, and Qatar Airways were among the carriers forced to cancel their flights, many to and from Europe, on February 27 because the flights were scheduled to fly to Pakistan or over its airspace.

Etihad, flydubai, Gulf Air, SriLankan Airlines, and Air Canada also canceled flights.

Singapore Airlines and British Airways were among those forced to reroute flights.

Pakistan closed its airspace after Islamabad and New Delhi claimed to have shot down the other's fighter jets earlier in the day. Pakistan said it captured an Indian pilot after its air force shot down an Indian warplane.

The activity came after Indian jets on February 26 struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a 1971 war, claiming to hit the training base used by a terror group that had killed at least 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers inside India-administered Kashmir on February 14.

The Thai flag carrier said 27 of its flights were canceled on February 27, with three passenger jets being forced to return to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport after having taken off earlier in the day.

The airline said some 5,000 passengers had been caught up in the cancellations.

"There are 4,000 from European flights and 700 to 800 from flights to Pakistan," a Thai Airways spokesperson said.

"We are waiting for permission to fly over other countries," she said, adding that Iran had rejected a request to allow flights over its airspace.

Pakistan aviation officials said the country's airspace would likely reopen as of midnight on February 28.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and The Express

Pakistan Arrests Two Suspected Of Attempting To Blow Up Pipeline

FILE: The aftermath of a bomb attack on a gas pipeline in southwestern Pakistan.

Two suspected insurgents have been arrested while attempting to blow up a main gas pipeline in the central Pakistani city of Bahawalpur, counterterrorism police said on February 23.

Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said the two men belong to the separatist group Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

She said they confessed to successfully conducting similar sabotage of gas pipelines in the adjacent district of Rahim Yar Khan.

Bahawalpur
Bahawalpur

Ghazanfar said police seized 2 kilograms of explosives, a timing device, detonators, and connecting cords from the men late on February 22.

There was no immediate statement from the BLA.

Rebels have been waging a low-level insurgency in southwestern Balochistan Province. But it's a new phenomenon to stage an attack outside their provincial boundaries to hit vital installations to press their demands.

Baloch insurgents want greater autonomy.

Based on reporting by AP

Flash Floods, Heavy Rains Kill 26 In Pakistan

A Pakistani horse-cart owner wades through a flooded road after heavy rainfall in Lahore, capital of the eastern Punjab Province.

Flash floods and heavy winter rains have killed at least 26 people in Pakistan's southwest and central regions, officials said on February 21.

The National Disaster Management Authority said 14 people were killed and 200 families were affected by flash floods that submerged villages near the southwestern town of Lasbella.

Multan
Multan

In central Pakistan, nine people were killed in three separate incidents of roofs collapsing during heavy rains, four of them in the city of Multan.

Emergency teams are working to rescue people from flooded parts of Lasbella in Baluchistan Province, said Imran Zarqoon, a spokesman for the provincial disaster authority.

Heavy seasonal rains often cause landslides and flash floods in Pakistan.

Based on reporting by AP and Dawn.com

Iranian IRGC General: Suspected Suicide Bomber Was Pakistani

Mohammad Pakpour watches a military drill in Iran. (undated)

A suicide bombing that killed 27 members of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) last week was perpetrated by a Pakistani, a senior IRGC commander has said, according to Iran's Tasnim news agency.

The bomber on February 13 struck a bus traveling on a road between the cities of Khash and Zahedan, a mountainous region along the Pakistani border that is also near Afghanistan.

One other member of the militant cell that planned the attack near the border with Pakistan was also a Pakistani citizen, the head of the IRGC's ground forces, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, said on February 19.

Pakpour's remarks appear to be the first time Tehran has said Pakistani citizens were directly involved in an attack on its territory, although Iran has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for sheltering militants in the border area.

Iran also accuses Saudi Arabia of inciting members of Iran's Sunni Muslim minority to violence. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia deny any role in attacks in Iran.

Three Iranians from Sistan and Baluchistan Province in southeast Iran were also part of the cell and two of them have been arrested, according to Pakpour. The IRGC announced three arrests in the case on February18.

The Sunni group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which says it pursues more rights and better living conditions for ethnic minority Baluchs in eastern Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Based on reporting by AP

Iran Says Deadly Attack On Revolutionary Guards Planned In Pakistan

Mourners in Isfahan reach out to touch the caskets of those killed in a suicide car bombing that targeted members of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards.

Iran's parliament speaker has said that an attack that killed 27 members of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was "planned and carried out from inside Pakistan.”

In the remarks carried by the state-run IRNA news agency on February 17, Ali Larijani said that Pakistan should answer for its involvement in the attack.

The comments come as Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Pakistani ambassador on February 17 to protest the assault, one of the deadliest attacks on Iranian security forces in years.

Islamabad condemned the bombing but has not commented on Tehran’s allegations.

The IRGC says a suicide bomber on February 13 drove an explosives-laden vehicle into a bus that was transporting troops in Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

A militant Sunni Muslim separatist group called Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sistan-Baluchistan is a volatile area near Iran's borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan where militant groups and drug smugglers frequently operate.

The province is populated mainly by Sunni Muslim ethnic Baluchis.

Tehran has repeatedly accused the United States, Israel, and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia of backing Sunni militia groups that carry out attacks against Iranian security forces, charges those countries have denied.

The U.S. accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Saudi Crown Prince To Arrive In Pakistan Amid India Tensions

The crown prince, widely known as MBS, is to hold meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, and army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during the two-day visit.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is due to arrive in Islamabad for a state visit on February 17, with officials hoping he will sign lucrative investments deals that could shore up Pakistan’s ailing economy.

The trip, which is the first leg of an Asian tour, comes amid high tensions in the region. India has accused Pakistan of having a hand in a recent suicide attack that killed 44 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region. Islamabad denies involvement.

The crown prince, widely known as MBS, is to hold meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, and army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during the two-day visit.

The two sides are expected to sign investment agreements worth more than $10 billion.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped Pakistan's economy to prop up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Imran Khan was one of the few foreign leaders to attend an international investment conference in Saudi Arabia in October that was largely boycotted after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of bin Salman, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Riyadh initially denied the murder, but now claims the journalist was killed in an unauthorized operation.

After Pakistan, bin Salman will travel to India, where he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. He is expected to finish the trip with a visit to China on February 21 and 22.

Based on reporting by Reuters, dpa, AFP

India Says U.S. Confirms Support Following Deadly Kashmir Bombing

Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14.

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton has spoken by telephone with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, and expressed U.S. support in combating terrorism.

The February 16 conversation came two days after an extremist attack on a military convoy in the disputed Kashmir region left 44 paramilitary police dead.

A Pakistan-based extremist group, Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), claimed responsibility for the attack, raising tensions between India and Pakistan. New Delhi has called on Pakistan to do more to combat cross-border terrorism and to crack down on JeM.

"The two NSAs vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan ceases to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the U.S., and others in the region," an Indian Foreign Ministry statement said.

"They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under UN resolutions," the statement concluded.

Pakistan has condemned the attack and denied complicity in it.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed Islamabad for the attack in comments on February 15, promising a "crushing response."

"Our neighboring country thinks such terror attacks can weaken us, but their plans will not materialize," he said.

The same day, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the country was withdrawing most-favored-nation trading status for Pakistan and considering further diplomatic measures "to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan."

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Five Police Killed, Two Wounded In Attack In Northwestern Pakistan

A man, who was injured when unknown gunmen opened fire at a police vehicle, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan on February 12.

Five Pakistani police officers have been killed after unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officials say.

Local police told RFE/RL that four police officers died during the February 12 ambush in the Dera Ismail Khan district.

A fifth officer later died of his wounds in hospital.

Two other policemen were injured in the attack, which was claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban.

The attackers managed to flee the scene and the security forces have launched a search operation.

With reporting by Reuters

Pakistani Islamist Party Calls For More Protests After Christian Woman's Blasphemy Acquittal

FILE: The Pakistan Supreme Court's decision in October to overturn Asia Bibi's blasphemy conviction ignited days of violent demonstrations.

A radical Islamist party has called for protests across the country after Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected a challenge to its decision to acquit a Christian woman at the center of a years-long dispute over blasphemy charges.

The leader of the Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan party (TLP), Mohammad Shafiq Amini, on January 30 called for supporters to head back into the streets this weekend after police arrested hundreds of them a day earlier when the court decision was handed down.

Bibi spent more than eight years on death row 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 radical Islamists calling for her killing as well as mutiny within the powerful military and the assassination of the country's top judges.

The government has since launched a crackdown on the TLP, charging its leaders with sedition and terrorism.

She was originally convicted in 2010 after being accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam in a row with her neighbors.

Bibi has always maintained her innocence.

Bibi has said she will leave the country as soon as her legal battles are over. Her daughters have reportedly taken refuge in Canada.

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

Based on reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters

At Least Eight Reported Killed In Attack On Pakistani Police Station

FILE: The incident took place in Balochistan's Loralai district.

At least eight people, including seven police officers, have been killed and 21 wounded in an attack on a local police office in Pakistan, the authorities say.

Attaur Rehman, a senior police officer from Loralai, in the southwestern Balochistan Province, said the attack occurred during a test for recruitment of police clerks on January 29. Around 900 candidates were present at the time of attack, he added.

All three attackers were wearing suicide vests and were armed with automatic rifles. They tried to storm their way into the office and target the civilian candidates, Rehman said.

Two attackers had blown themselves up and the third was shot dead by the security forces, he said.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but gave no further details.

Earlier this month, four members of the security forces were killed in an attack on a Frontier Corps training base in Loralai district, which is located some 260 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Quetta.

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.

With reporting by Dawn, Reuters, dpa, and AP

Top Pakistani Court To Rule On Call For Appeal Against Christian Woman

People shout slogans as they protest the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy, whose death sentence was annulled by the Supreme Court in Lahore in November 2018.

Pakistan's Supreme Court is due to 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 said.

Judges, including Pakistan's new chief justice, Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, are expected to reject the appeal.

If the court refuses to allow the petition, 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 as well mutiny within the powerful military and the assassination of the country's top judges.

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

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

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

With reporting by AP and AFP

Pakistan Cricket Captain Suspended For Breaching Anti-Racism Code

Sarfraz Ahmed

Cricket’s global governing body has banned Pakistan cricket captain Sarfraz Ahmed for four games for breaching the sport's anti-racism code.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed the decision on January 27, saying Sarfraz accepted that he had breached the ICC's anti-racism code for participants.

Sarfraz, the Pakistan wicketkeeper, apologized after being accused of making a racist on-field taunt in Urdu aimed at South African player Andile Phehlukwayo, who is black, during the second one-day series in Durban, South Africa, on January 22.

Shoaib Malik captained Pakistan for the fourth one-day international in Johannesburg on January 27 in Sarfraz's place.

The ICC ruling means he will miss the remaining two matches of the ongoing one-day series and the first two Twenty20 games.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

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

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