In Pakistan lynching has become the norm as Court upholds Death Sentence for brothers charged with Blasphemy

Matthew 10:28 “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Pakistani High Court Upholds Death Sentence of Christian Brothers Charged with Blasphemy
  • They were accused of posting blasphemous contents on the internet… Judge Javed Iqbal Bosal sentenced them to death, with a 100,000 rupee (USD $719) fine.
  • “This will be the 3rd case of blasphemy which will be heard by the Supreme Court. We still believe that the brothers are innocent and it has not been proved that they had published any blasphemous contents.”
  • Lynching and vigilante justice have become everyday phenomena in Pakistan. Because of the government’s inaction and support from hardline religious groups, criminals are encouraged and continue killing innocent people with impunity.

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‘Ashamed’: Pakistan grapples with fallout from mob killing

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A shocking and deadly mob attack on a Sri Lankan factory manager accused of blasphemy in eastern Pakistan last week prompted days of soul searching as the man’s remains were flown to his home country.

The violence, which was condemned by rights watchdogs including Amnesty International, also drew intense responses from politicians, celebrities and journalists on social media.

“Ashamed!! Sick to my stomach!!,” actress Mahira Khan wrote on Twitter shortly after the lynching.

The mob of factory employees in Pakistan’s Punjab province tortured and burned a Sri Lankan manager on Friday in an attack that Prime Minister Imran Khan said brought shame on the country.

The killing raised alarm over the potential for accusations of blasphemy to fuel crowd violence in Pakistan, coming just weeks after at least seven policemen were killed in clashes with the radical TLP movement, which has built its identity on fighting what it sees as blasphemy.

Mob killings over accusations of blasphemy are frequent in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where the crime can carry the death sentence.

Other politicians and the country’s powerful military also released statements condemning the attack.

“Mob violence cannot be acceptable under any circumstance as (the) state has laws to deal with all offences,” said Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari on Twitter.

The victim’s body was returned to Sri Lankan officials over the weekend and then flown to his home country, a government source in Punjab province told Reuters.

Punjab’s police said arrests were continuing.

“In the last 12 hours, police have arrested seven more key figures, including one involved in planning an attack on a Sri Lankan manager,” they said in a statement.

Some politicians and activists argued that broader societal and political change was needed, beyond legal consequences for those involved.

“Arrests should of course be made, but there has to be a clear appraisal of why mobs feel the impunity,” said Senator Sherry Rehman, a member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

In an editorial entitled “Horror in Sialkot,” leading newspaper Dawn on Sunday criticized Pakistan for “appeasing religious extremists.”

“Once again, we are reminded how far this nation has descended into the abyss,” the editorial said.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Pakistan foreign minister makes first trip to Kabul since Taliban takeover

By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KABUL (Reuters) -Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday for the first time since the Taliban victory in August, following weeks of tension over transport links between the neighboring countries.

The visit comes after prolonged problems at the Chaman border crossing, one of the main trade transit points between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has been closed for more than two weeks, causing severe problems for truckers and exporters.

Qureshi said Pakistan was determined to help Afghanistan avoid a collapse of its economy and had agreed measures to ease some border restrictions and facilitate trade, including on-arrival visas for Afghan business travelers.

“We have taken steps that will benefit Afghanistan financially,” he told reporters.

Imports of fresh fruit and vegetables from Afghanistan would also be allowed duty free, Qureshi said, in a move aimed at helping Afghan fruit producers hurt by the border closures.

Farmers near the southern city of Kandahar have been forced to leave pomegranates and other export produce to rot because trucks cannot get through to their markets across the border.

But there was no agreement to restart flights by Pakistan International Airlines, which suspended operations from Kabul last week after it accused Taliban officials of interference.

The airline has faced local anger after it raised the price of a one-way ticket to as much as $2,500, citing the cost of the premiums it was forced to pay for operating in what insurers consider a war zone.

Qureshi’s delegation on Thursday included the head of the ISI intelligence service, Faiz Hameed, who had also visited Kabul in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the city.

Before the meeting, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Qureshi would focus in his talks with Muttaqi and other Taliban leaders “on ways and means to deepen cooperation in diverse areas”.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie in Islamabad and Gibran Peshimam in Kabul; Editing by Gareth Jones)

16 killed in Pakistan chemical factory fire

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – At least 16 people were killed in a factory fire on Friday in Pakistan’s largest city and financial hub, Karachi, raising questions about the industrial safety in a country not new to such accidents.

The fire broke out at a multi-story chemical factory in eastern part of the city, and most windows of the factory were blocked, police and fire officials said.

Many factory workers died after being trapped on the second floor in the fire, which broke out on the ground floor of the three-story factory.

“At least 16 people have died in the fire,” Saqib Ismail Memon, deputy inspector general of Karachi’s eastern part, told Reuters.

Private television channels’ footage showed thick grey smoke billowing out from the top floors of the factory.

“The factory had only one entry point, which was also being used as exit, and the roof exit was blocked, which badly hampered rescue efforts,” Mubeen Ahmed, chief fire officer of the fire department, told a Geo, a private television channel.

Over 260 workers were burnt alive when a multi-story garment factory was set on fire in September 2012 in what became the deadliest industrial blaze in Pakistan’s history.

Blazes and accidents are common in South Asia’s factories, many of which operate illegally and without proper fire safety measures.

(Reporting by Raza Hassan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Trucks rolling across Afghanistan border as trade resumes

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Commercial traffic across Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan at the Spin Boldak/Chaman crossing picked up on Thursday, traders said, as the shock of the Taliban’s lightning seizure of power began to ease and confidence returned.

Despite the Ashura religious holiday, truckloads of agricultural produce from Kandahar province were driven across the border, a sign that trade was beginning to return to normal.

“Today, many trucks loaded with fresh fruit (from Afghanistan), including famous ‘Sunder-Khani’ grapes, were cleared at Customs House Chaman,” a senior Custom Officer told Reuters via WhatsApp.

He said movement was strong in both directions, with long-bodied trucks loaded with export and Afghan transit goods also going from Pakistan to Afghanistan’s Spin Boldak and the nearby provincial capital of Kandahar.

Along with the Tokham crossing near Peshawar, Chaman is one of the main trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, providing a clear picture of economic activity between them.

The Pakistani official, who could not be quoted by name, said trade had picked up over recent days after fighting ended in Kandahar last week and the fall of Kabul on Sunday gave the Taliban complete control of the country.

“After the Taliban took control over Kabul, trade was increased from both sides and empty trucks were also coming back to Chaman without any difficulty,” he said.

The Vice President of Pak-Afghan joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Imran Khan Kakar, told Reuters that Pakistani drivers had previously faced problems returning from Afghanistan.

He said the police and other armed people had been allowing empty trucks to proceed only after taking payments ranging from 10,000-20,000 Pakistani rupees ($61-$122).

“Since the return of the Taliban, there have been no such problems,” Kakar added.

($1 = 163.6000 Pakistani rupees)

(Reporting by Gul Yousafzai; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Catherine Evans)

U.S. finds Pakistan useful only to clean up mess in Afghanistan -Khan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the United States of seeing his country as useful only in the context of the “mess” it is leaving behind in Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting.

Washington has been pressing Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban to broker an elusive peace deal as negotiations between the insurgents and Afghan government have stalled, and violence in Afghanistan has escalated sharply.

“Pakistan is just considered only to be useful in the context of somehow settling this mess which has been left behind after 20 years of trying to find a military solution when there was not one,” Khan told foreign journalists at his home in Islamabad.

The United States will pull out its military by Aug. 31, 20 years after toppling the Taliban government in 2001. But, as the United States leaves, the Taliban today controls more territory than at any point since then.

Kabul and several Western governments say Pakistan’s support for the insurgent group allowed it to weather the war.

The charge of supporting the Taliban despite being a U.S. ally has long been a sore point between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan denies supporting the Taliban.

Khan said Islamabad was not taking sides in Afghanistan.

“I think that the Americans have decided that India is their strategic partner now, and I think that’s why there’s a different way of treating Pakistan now,” Khan said.

Pakistan and India are archrivals and have fought three wars. The two share frosty ties and currently have minimal diplomatic relations.

A political settlement in Afghanistan was looking difficult under current conditions, Khan added.

He said he tried to persuade Taliban leaders when they were visiting Pakistan to reach a settlement.

“The condition is that as long as Ashraf Ghani is there, we (Taliban) are not going to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan said, quoting the Taliban leaders as telling him.

Peace talks between the Taliban, who view Ghani and his government as U.S. puppets, and a team of Kabul-nominated Afghan negotiators started last September but have made no substantive progress.

Representatives of a number of countries, including the United States, are currently in the Qatari capital of Doha talking to both sides in a last-ditch push for a ceasefire.

U.S. forces have continued to use air strikes to support Afghan forces against Taliban advances, but it remains unclear if such support will continue after Aug. 31.

Khan said Pakistan had “made it very clear” that it does not want any American military bases in Pakistan after U.S. forces exit Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; editing by John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis)

Officials, Taliban strike ceasefire deal in western Afghanistan, says provincial governor

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi

KABUL (Reuters) -Government officials in a western Afghan province said on Thursday they had negotiated “an indefinite ceasefire” with the Taliban to prevent further attacks on the capital of the province.

The move came after fighters from the Islamist group secured complete control over all the districts in Badghis province, reflecting wider gains by the Taliban over territory and infrastructure in the weeks since U.S. President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops by Sept. 11.

“Ten tribal elders had taken the responsibility of ceasefire, so they first talked to the Taliban, and then talked to the local government and both sides reached a ceasefire,” the provincial governor, Husamuddin Shams, told Reuters.

The Taliban reached an agreement with the tribal elders to move to the outskirts of Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis, Shams said.

A spokesman for the Taliban denied they had agreed to a ceasefire but said they had left the city to avoid civilian casualties.

“Qala-e-Naw is the only city in Afghanistan where the Taliban announced a ceasefire,” said Abdul Aziz Bek, the head of the provincial council in Badghis.

Afghan officials in the capital, Kabul, were not available to comment.

There were conflicting reports on Thursday about who was in control of a major trading town on the border with Pakistan. The Spin Boldak-Chaman border post is the second most important crossing on the Pakistan border and a major source of revenue for the Western-backed government in Kabul.

A senior Afghan government official said on Thursday security forces had retaken control of the town hours after the Taliban seized it on Wednesday.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed that and said his forces still held it.

“It is merely propaganda and a baseless claim by the Kabul administration,” he told Reuters.

The defense ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Pakistan, worried about a spillover of fighting, has shut its side of the Spin Boldak-Chaman border, which lies on the main commercial artery between the second Afghan city of Kandahar and Pakistani ports.

CLASHES HAVE INTENSIFIED

Clashes between the Taliban and government forces have intensified as U.S.-led international forces have been withdrawing. The Taliban have captured several districts and border crossings in the north and west.

The government has accused the Taliban of destroying hundreds of government buildings in 29 of the country’s 34 provinces. The Taliban deny accusations of extensive destruction by their fighters.

A senior Afghan government official in Kabul, Nader Nadery, said the security forces were working to push back Taliban fighters and regain control over 190 districts.

The deteriorating security situation has raised fears of a new Afghan refugee crisis. President Ashraf Ghani met regional leaders in Uzbekistan on Thursday and Pakistan said it would host a conference of senior Afghan leaders in an effort to find solutions.

Diplomatic efforts have focused on pushing the rival Afghan sides to make progress towards a ceasefire.

Pakistan was for years accused of backing the Taliban with the aim of blocking the influence of its old rival India in Afghanistan. But Pakistan denied that and now says it wants to encourage negotiations to ensure a peaceful outcome.

Pakistani information minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Twitter that Pakistan was arranging more talks and that important leaders including former President Hamid Karzai, who remains an influential figure, had been invited.

Chaudhry said Taliban leaders would not be attending as Pakistan was holding separate talks with them.

Karzai and some top Afghan political leaders are expected to fly to Qatar this weekend for talks with members of the Taliban who have an office in the capital, Doha.

The Islamist militants ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were ousted in 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. They have fought since to expel foreign forces and topple the government in Kabul.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Writing by Gibran Peshimam, Rupam Jain, Editing by Robert Birsel)

Afghan Taliban seize border crossing with Pakistan in major advance

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban fighters in Afghanistan seized control of a major border crossing with Pakistan on Wednesday, achieving a key strategic objective during a rapid advance across the country as U.S. forces pull out.

A Pakistani official said Taliban insurgents had taken down the Afghan government flag from atop the Friendship Gate at the border crossing between the Pakistani town of Chaman and the Afghan town of Wesh.

The crossing, south of Afghanistan’s main southern city Kandahar, is the landlocked country’s second busiest entry point and main commercial artery between its sprawling southwest region and Pakistani sea ports. Afghan government data indicate that the route is used by 900 trucks a day.

The Taliban takeover forced Pakistan to seal parts of its border with Afghanistan after heavy fighting between insurgent and Afghan government forces around Wesh.

Afghan officials said government forces had pushed back the Taliban and were in control of the Spin Boldak border district in Kandahar province. But civilians and Pakistani officials said the Taliban controlled the Wesh border crossing.

“Wesh, which has great importance in Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries, has been captured by the Taliban,” said a Pakistani security official deployed at the border area. A Taliban spokesman confirmed Wesh’s capture by the insurgents.

Officials in Chaman said the Taliban had suspended all travel through the gate.

The Taliban have in recent days seized other major border crossings, in Herat, Farah and Kunduz provinces in the north and west. Control of border posts allows the Taliban to collect revenue, said Shafiqullah Attai, chairman of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment in the capital Kabul.

“Income has started to go to the Taliban,” Attai told Reuters, though he could not estimate how much they were earning.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 until their ouster in 2001 by a U.S. invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, have been fighting since to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Emboldened by the departure of foreign forces by a September target, with peace talks stalled, they are making a fresh push to surround cities and capture territory.

PRESIDENT VOWS TO BREAK TALIBAN BACKBONE

President Ashraf Ghani travelled to the northern province of Balkh on Tuesday to assess security after the Taliban pushed government forces out of several districts there.

Ghani, 72, met civilians and assured them that “the Taliban’s backbone will be broken” and government forces would soon retake all of the areas lost to the militants, the Tolo News network reported.

In the western province of Herat, a security official said Taliban fighters had fired several mortars at the Salma Dam, a vital hydroelectric and irrigation project.

Officials at the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority appealed to the Taliban to treat the dam as a “national treasure (that) is the common property of all and should not be damaged in military conflict”.

The Indian-financed dam generates over 40 megawatts of power and helps irrigate over 75,000 hectares of land in the region.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the Taliban were forcing members of a small ethnic minority to either convert to Islam or leave their homes in the northern province of Badakhshan.

“These are minority Kerghiz who lived there for centuries…They are now (across the border) in Tajikistan awaiting their fate,” he said on Twitter.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said it was increasingly concerned about reports of rights abuses as the fighting spreads. “The reports of killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination are widespread and disturbing, creating fear and insecurity,” the mission said in a statement.

Educated Afghans – especially women and girls who were barred from school and most work under Taliban rule – have voiced alarm at their rapid advance, as have members of ethnic and sectarian minorities persecuted under the Taliban’s severe interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Taliban spokespeople reject accusations that they abuse rights, and say women will not be mistreated if the Taliban return to power.

“The best way to end harm to civilians is for peace talks to be reinvigorated in order for a negotiated settlement to be reached,” the U.N. mission said.

The Taliban made a commitment to negotiate with their Afghan rivals as part of an agreement under which the United States offered to withdraw its forces. But little progress has been made towards a ceasefire in several rounds of talks in Qatar.

Senior politicians from Kabul were preparing to leave for Qatar for more talks this month as Western diplomats urged the rival sides to work towards a power-sharing agreement.

(Additional reporting by Gul Yosuefzai in Quetta, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Robert Birsel and Mark Heinrich)

Taliban warns nearby nations against hosting U.S. military after withdrawal

KABUL/PESHAWAR (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday warned nearby nations against allowing the United States to use their territory for operations in the country after they withdraw from Afghanistan.

As foreign forces withdraw troops by President Joe Biden’s announced deadline of Sept. 11, experts and diplomats have speculated that Washington’s future role in the region could include bases in nearby countries, especially Pakistan.

“If such a step is taken, then the responsibility for all the misfortunes and difficulties lies upon those who commit such mistakes,” the insurgent group said in a statement, without specifying a country.

U.S. officials have privately said that they are exploring potential basing options in countries near Afghanistan, like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but have so far not come to an agreement with any of them.

In recent days, there has been a spate of talks between senior Pakistani and U.S. officials, including a meeting between Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Pakistani counterpart.

Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan that runs along heavily contested areas of south and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban have a large presence.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office said on Monday that any speculation over U.S. use of bases in Pakistan “was baseless and irresponsible”.

The U.S. embassy in Islamabad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces has escalated sharply in Afghanistan since Washington announced its decision, a slower timeframe than envisaged in a deal former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration signed with the insurgents that said troops would withdraw by May subject to security guarantees.

Many analysts have warned that the country could descend into civil war as efforts to secure a peace deal through talks in Doha have largely stalled.

Two Taliban sources said several members of the group’s political office are currently in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad for talks over the ongoing negotiations, including whether to take part in a conference due to take place in Turkey that they had previously boycotted.

Pakistan has been criticized in the past for ties to the Taliban, but in recent years has been praised by Washington for helping to bring the group to the negotiating table.

(Reporting by Afghanistan and Pakistan bureaux; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Pakistan sees record COVID-19 deaths as officials consider stricter lockdowns

By Umar Farooq

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan recorded more than two hundred COVID-19 deaths in a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic on Tuesday, as the government said it was considering stricter lockdowns.

A total of 201 new deaths were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the country’s overall death toll from the virus to 17,530, according to the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the government’s pandemic response. The previous highest daily death count was 157 recorded on April 23.

A total of 5,292 new cases were reported on Tuesday, bringing the total cases to 810,231 in the country of more than 220 million people.

The national positivity ratio, the number of infections among those tested, was 10.8%. The death rate, the number of infections resulting in fatalaties, hit the highest point since the start of the pandemic, reaching around 2.2%.

Only around two million vaccinations have been administered in Pakistan, and the country has struggled to procure supplies to cover enough of its population.

Officials have said health care facilities are at risk of being overwhelmed. Pakistan has very limited health resources, with ventilators and oxygen in short supply.

Around 6,286 COVID-19 patients were being treated in 631 hospitals on Tuesday, and more than 70% of ventilators and oxygenated beds were occupied in hospitals in many major cities, according to the NCOC.

On Monday, Pakistani army troops were deployed in 16 major cities with high positivity rates, to assist civilian law enforcement in enforcing measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including the wearing of masks in public and the closing of non-essential businesses after 6pm.

Stricter measures were taken in a handful of cities with the highest positivity rates this week, and on Tuesday Health Minister Faisal Sultan warned such steps could be extended to other areas if the public did not heed advice on social distancing, wearing masks, and other precautionary measures, especially during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan with the upcoming Eid holiday next month.

“Please keep your Ramadan and Eid simple this year, so we can fight this disease and get through this difficult situation,” Sultan said.

The southern province of Sindh announced intercity transportation will be halted starting April 30, and remain in place through May 17, just after the Eid holiday.

(Reporting by Umar Farooq; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)