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Twitter still inaccessible for more than 4 days in Pakistan.

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Popular social networking platform X, formerly Twitter, was inaccessible and banned in Pakistan on the fourth consecutive day, with the government still keeping mum about the disruption that began on Saturday last week, following election fraud allegations by a senior government official.

The social media platform was accessible for a few hours today, but its access was disrupted once again, with no official announcement.

Ahead of the February 8 general elections, users were unable to access several social media sites, for which authorities concerned blamed an error. However, on the polling day, the internet was shut down to avoid terrorism, according to the caretaker government. Following the sought-after polls, there were repeated disruptions in accessing X.

Internet shutdowns directly contradict constitutionally guaranteed rights like freedom of information (Article 19-A), freedom of speech (Article 19), and freedom of association (Article 17).

In its February 2018 ruling, the Islamabad High Court declared internet shutdowns against fundamental rights and constitution.

Digital rights activist and journalist Farieha Aziz said the ban on X persists without any official acknowledgement by the PTA or the caretaker government. Instead, she said, there is deflection by all quarters, while the “prime minister and the IT minister are using VPNs to post on X”.

Usama Khilji, director at Bolo Bhi, slammed the utter lack of transparency from the government. “There’s no notice, no announcement, no certainty around when the block will be lifted, which is creating a lot of uncertainty and an environment of disinformation, because people cannot access information with integrity, can’t access instant information, which is the defining nature of Twitter,” he said.

The United States called Wednesday on Pakistan to lift restrictions on X, formerly known as Twitter, after days of disruption following an election marred by fraud allegations.

“We are concerned by any report of restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan, including a partial or complete government-imposed internet shutdown,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

“We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to any social media that has been restricted including Twitter, now known as X,” he said.

“We have and we will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.”

 

BLOCKED SINCE FOUR DAYS

X went down in Pakistan on Saturday night after a senior government official made a public admission of vote manipulation in the February 8 election.

The two main dynastic parties, the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), late Tuesday announced a coalition with smaller parties to govern the world’s fifth most populous nation.

Excluded from government were candidates loyal to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan. His supporters took the most seats even though they were forced to run as independents and they allege they would have enjoyed a decisive victory without rigging.

The United States has called for an investigation of fraud claims but declined to comment on the makeup of the coalition, which will need to be formally approved by the National Assembly.

Pakistan is an authoritarian regime: Democracy Index 2023. Only Asian country in the category

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A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) demoted Pakistan 11 places in the global ranking on the state of democracy and downgraded it from a “hybrid regime” to an “authoritarian regime”.

According to the EIU report, democratic standards across the world fell in 2023 amid the spread of wars, authoritarian crackdowns and declining levels of trust in mainstream political parties.

Titled Age of Conflict, the study provides a snapshot of the state of democracy in 165 independent states and two territories, and basing its scores on a range of indicators, each country is classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime or authoritarian regime.

A case in point is Pakistan, which has suffered the biggest regression in the Asian region — its score falling to 3.25, triggering a downgrade from ‘hybrid regime’ to ‘authoritarian regime’ and a decline of 11 places in the global ranking. It is worth noting that more than half of the 28 countries in the region recorded a decline in their scores (15), and only eight improved their scores.

Pakistan was among six states on the globe to have their classification changed — the others being Greece (which moved up to ‘full democracy’), Papua New Guinea and Paraguay (which improved from ‘hybrid regimes’ to become ‘flawed democracies’) and Angola (which was upgraded from its authoritarian classification to ‘hybrid regime’) — and the only Asian country to be downgraded so significantly.

While noting the fact that the country has gone to the polls, the EIU pointed out that: “Unsurprisingly, elections in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Russia — where opposition forces are subject to state repression — will not bring regime change or more democracy.”

One of the reasons for this decline can be found in the indicators ‘electoral process and pluralism’ and ‘functioning of government’, where the EIU notes that the “outsized political influence of the military… means that elections are far from being free, fair or competitive”.

Pakistan’s score on the democracy index remained a little over 4 since 2008. It was for the first in 2023 that the country’s score tumbled to 3.25 during the coalition government primarily comprising of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F).

Interestingly, Pakistan’s 2023 score on the democracy index is even worse than 2006 (3.92) when military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf was at the helm of the affairs.

Speaking to local media, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) Ahmed Bilal Mehboob termed Pakistan’s downgrading as “disappointing”.

Pakistan downgraded to authoritarian regime on Democracy Index

“This is a very disappointing development as Pakistan has scored the lowest since 2017 and our category has also been downgraded from a hybrid regime’ to an authoritarian regime,” he added.

He also urged all stakeholders to “undertake serious soul searching at this state of affairs”.

According to the EIU report, only 7.8 percent of the global population reside in a “full democracy”, and substantially more than one-third live under authoritarian rule.

The top three places in the index are occupied by Norway, New Zealand and Iceland, while the final three countries are North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

US, UK and EU urge probe into Pakistan elections, express concerns

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The United States, Britain and the European Union have separately expressed concerns about Pakistan’s electoral process in the wake of a vote on Thursday and urged a probe into reported irregularities.

The main battle was between former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party and candidates backed by ex-prime minister Imran Khan. Both declared victory separately.

Elections were held for 265 seats in the national assembly and a political party needs 133 seats for a simple majority.

The US and the EU both mentioned allegations of interference, including arrests of activists, and added that claims of irregularities, interference and fraud should be fully investigated.

Khan is in jail and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has been barred from the polls. Independents, most of them backed by Khan, had won the most seats – 98 of the 245 counted by 1830 GMT – while Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party had won 69 seats.

It is widely known that the country’s powerful military is behind a crackdown to hound his party out of existence, while analysts and opponents say Sharif is being backed by the generals.

The EU statement noted a “lack of a level playing field”, attributing that to “the inability of some political actors to contest the elections” and to restrictions to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and internet access.

The US State Department said there were “undue restrictions” on freedoms of expressions and assembly while noting violence and attacks on media workers.

Some US lawmakers such as Democratic US Representatives Ro Khanna and Ilhan Omar also expressed concerns, with Khanna saying “the military is interfering and rigging the result.”

Both Khanna and Omar urged the State Department not to recognize a winner until investigations are conducted into allegations of misconduct.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said both EU and US State Department statements were “relatively mild … considering the great scale of the rigging that went down.”

Earlier this week, the UN human rights office denounced violence against political parties and candidates. It voiced concern over the “pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders and supporters” of Khan’s party.

The EU, the US and Britain said they would work with the next government and did not congratulate any candidate or party.

British foreign minister David Cameron’s statement noted “serious concerns raised about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections.”

Multiple frivolous legal cases have been brought against Khan, which disqualified him as a candidate and sentenced him to long prison terms. He denies wrongdoing and says the military is manipulating the judicial process against him.

Khan was ousted in 2022 after falling out with the country’s powerful military, which denies meddling in politics. Ironically, it was his party which won the last national election in 2018 with the help of the Pakistani military, when the two sides were working together.

Source: Gulf Today

Pakistan’s election neither free nor fair: Reports

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Internet and mobile services was suspended in Pakistan as voters headed to the polls today. Following the internet blackout in Pakistan, Amnesty International’s interim deputy director for South Asia said the decision on election day was “a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

“It is reckless to impede access to information as people head out to polling stations on the heels of devastating bomb blasts and what has been an intense crackdown on the opposition in the lead-up to the elections in the country,” Livia Saccardi, the Amnesty representative said.

Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar had said late last night that he had “no intention” of shutting down internet services.

But this morning his government did exactly that, cutting mobile phone services across the country, citing “recent incidents of terrorism in the country”.

However, netizens were quick to point out that the terror incidents were happening in remote parts of the country, and not in the urban cities, where the internet and mobile services were also shut down.

PAKISTAN’S ELECTION: A farce and a tragedy

As per Time magazine, years from now, Pakistan’s 2024 election will be looked back on as a grim reminder that history can be both tragedy and farce at the same time.

“The country is experiencing one of its darkest periods in decades. There’s the resurgent terrorism, severe economic stress, worsening border tensions with Iran and Afghanistan, increasingly destructive climate change effects as seen during thee catastrophic floods of 2022, and, not surprisingly, record levels of public skepticism about the government’s capacity to fix all these problems,” writes Michael Kugelman, a well known Pakistani commentator for the Time Magazine. “There’s never been a more critical moment for a credible election. And yet, it will likely be more farcical than free and fair,” he adds.

These are Pakistan’s 12th general elections — the country’s latest attempt to deepen democratic roots. The powerful military establishment has ruled directly for more than three decades of the country’s journey as an independent nation since 1947.

It has influenced and intervened in politics even when not directly in power — a fact acknowledged by former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa in November 2022.

Those allegations against the military’s involvement in politics have been amplified in recent weeks, amid a crackdown on Imran Khan and his party.

Earlier, the UN Organization of Human Rights High Commissioner (OHCHR) Volker Türk had also urged authorities in Pakistan to ensure that parliamentary elections this week were free and fair, his office, OHCHR, said this Tuesday, an appeal that may have come too late.

The UN OHCHR Spokesperson Liz Throssell said there have been no less than 24 reported instances in which armed groups have staged attacks against members of political parties.

TARGETING PTI, NO LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR IMRAN KHAN

The UN office also voiced concern over the pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders and supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party, which is headed by former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Multiple legal cases have been brought against Mr. Khan, which disqualified him as a candidate and sentenced him to long prison terms.

“We expect the higher courts will carefully review these conclusions in line with applicable due process and fair trial rights and Pakistan’s wider international human rights obligations; all eligible parties must be able to compete fairly,” Ms. Throssell said.

Khan, who captained Pakistan to cricket World Cup glory in 1992 and entered politics four years later, rose to power on a ticket of anti-corruption.

His party won elections in 2018, which many analysts say came with the approval of the country’s powerful military, a force that has dominated politics since Pakistan’s 1947 independence either through direct rule or behind the scenes.

A DULL ELECTION CAMPAIGN OWING TO PRE POLL RIGGING

In place of the usual campaigning fanfare that accompanies an election cycle, CNN reported that there was a sense of desolation among many of the country’s 230 million population, nearly 40% of whom are living in poverty, according to the World Bank.

Many young voters – the median age in Pakistan is just 22.7 – say they feel unseen and unheard, unable to pick the leader they want to guide the country for the next five years.

“Everyone can see where the preference lies. I wanted to give my first vote to Imran Khan but unfortunately, I don’t think that can happen now,” said Rabiya Arooj, a 22-year-old first-time voter from the capital, Islamabad told CNN.

“Our institutions are not working, the people responsible are not working for us, there is no freedom of speech. We are very distressed.”

Baloch Liberation Army says it has taken over Mach city and nearby areas under its control. Pak Army refutes the claim.

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QUETTA: About 20 hours after launching a massive military operation, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said it was in “control” of Mach city and adjoining areas of Bolan district in Pakistan-occupied Balochistan after killing at least 55 Pakistani soldiers.

“As part of operation Dara-e-Bolan, the Baloch freedom fighters have a strong control over Mach city and adjoining highways since last 20 hours,” BLA spokesman Jeeyand Baloch said in a statement.

He said BLA fighters have established strong positions across Mach city.

Earlier in the day, he said the freedom fighters of the outfit were controlling all entry and exit routes of Mach and have planted landmines on all routes, depriving any reinforcement for the Pakistani forces.

The latest update from BLA stated that the Mach city remained under control of Baloch Liberation Army for more than 24 hours now, where as Pakistani military has been cornered into a small area of FC headquarters.

The BLA spokesperson said that the Pakistani military is making false claims that it has repulsed BLA attack and Mach has been cleared. In reality, the Baloch freedom fighters are patrolling the streets of Mach city with full public support. The BLA invited international media, including the Pakistani media, to visit Mach city to see the facts themselves, guaranteeing full protection to any media outlet that plans to visit Mach city.

BLA launched the Operation at around 9 PM (Pakistan time) on 29th January, with the freedom fighters targeting the Army Base Camp, the main police station, the headquarters of paramilitary Frontier Corps and the Railway Station and some other key locations of Mach city in a coordinated manner.

“BLA’s Special Tactical Operations Squad has taken control of all entry and exit routes in the area. The STOS has installed explosive mines on these routes, depriving the enemy forces any reinforcement,” the spokesman said last afternoon.

“We openly challenge Pakistani military, the killer of innocents, to come and face Baloch freedom fighters who are freely roaming the streets of Mach city,” the spokesman further said.

On the other hand, Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai claimed that the separatists had been repelled after firing rockets from three directions, while the Pakistan Army media wing ISPR also refuted the claims made by BLA. South Asia Press could not verify any of the claims.

Pakistani forces were in pursuit of the separatists “on the retreat and search operation was underway” to locate the hidden separatists – according to Mr. Achakzai. He further revealed that the Baloch separatists attempted to attack from three directions in the mountains.

Earlier, Balochistan’s caretaker Information Minister also took to Twitter to address the situation, stating that reports indicated rockets had been fired in the Machh hill area. However, he assured the public that no damage had been reported thus far, emphasizing that law enforcement agencies were on high alert to address the situation and maintain security in the region.

Why is there such slow progress of Chinese projects in Balochistan? South Asia Press investigates.

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China in the past 10 years has announced many China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related infrastructural projects in Gwadar, Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The announced Chinese projects at Gwadar in Balochistan province include Gwadar Port Free Zone, 18.9 km Gwadar Eastbay Expressway, new Gwadar International Airport, 300 MW coal project, 300-bed Friendship hospital, 1.2 MGD desalination plant, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar, expansion of multipurpose terminal & dredging of berthing areas & channels and construction of breakwaters. 

Chinese projects in Balochistan have not gained much tangible progress and slow momentum remains a constant concern for the Chinese in wake of lack of support from local population.

Among announced projects, China has merely been able to complete some of the projects namely development of Port and Free Zone, Gwadar Smart Port City Master Plan, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar & Gwadar Eastbay Expressway, while rest of the above-mentioned projects is delayed.

Progress on social sector priority projects remains mixed. The 300-bed Friendship hospital remains stuck in procedural delays. Port and surrounding areas in Gwadar continue to face acute water and electricity shortages.

Chinese investments in a plethora of infrastructure projects in Balochistan overwhelmingly benefiting China, is facing a lot of resistance from the local Baloch population. The construction of the Gwadar port caused restrictions on local fishing near Gwadar area and mass displacement of the local population from resource-rich Balochistan.

In Nov. 2021, under ‘Gwadar ko Huqooq Do Tehreek (Give Rights to Gwadar movement)’, Gwadar fishermen took to the streets to press the government for their demands including halt to illegal fishing and voiced concerns against the hegemonic designs of the Pakistani government in allowing Chinese trawlers to exploit fish resources at the expense of local fishermen. 

The attacks on Chinese personnel by Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and several armed groups of Baloch freedom fighters are also making it untenable for Chinese to continue and complete the projects in Balochistan. BLA under freedom movement in Pakistan’s South-Western Balochistan province has stepped up attacks, targeting the Chinese personnel/engineers working in infrastructure projects being developed by China as part of Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

The BLA active for decades in Balochistan, carried out various attacks on Chinese engineers. The major attacks include: (i) recent attack (Aug. 13, 2023) by Majeed Brigade, an elite unit within the BLA, on a Chinese convoy near Gwadar port, (ii) Baloch separatists attacked (May 12, 2019) the Pearl Continental hotel at Gwadar; and (iii) a Baloch insurgent group attacked (Nov. 23, 2018) on the Chinese consulate in Southern Karachi city and (iv) a suicide bomber targeted (Aug. 30, 2018) a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbadin, Balochistan. 

There is growing discontent among local Baloch population deprived of socio-economic benefits against Chinese projects in Balochistan, are seeking their share and participation in these projects besides demanding healthcare, electricity and educational facilities. The acquisition of Gwadar port, exclusion of Baloch firms and hiring of non-Baloch labor in Gwadar associated CPEC projects have manifested Baloch nationalist forces either wholly rejecting the Chinese projects or voicing for greater share in these projects. The BLA also often conveyed a clear message to China, emphasizing their view of Balochistan as an “occupied territory” and voicing their opposition to Beijing’s projects in the region. The resurgence of Baloch militant groups as a result of reorganization and expanded capabilities fortified through new alliances, continued attacks on Chinese personnel and security forces impacting progress of Chinese projects in Balochistan.

#EXCLUSIVE How Pakistan Airforce is being destroyed by its chief, Zaheer Ahmed Baber

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Written by a Pakistan airforce whistleblower

This White Paper is intended to inform the Government & general public about how Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu, the Chief of Air staff Pakistan Airforce (CAS), is damaging the premier defense institution of Pakistan through his corruption, utter disregard of merit, nepotism and incompetency. The information covers only some of the salient facts intended to highlight a deep and pervasive malaise that has set in this most critical institution for Pakistan’s national security. The author takes full responsibility for stated facts, and if challenged, can come forward in any court of law to defend the contents.

Background

However critical one may be of the armed forces of Pakistan, there is a general consensus amongst both experts and lay public that one branch of it, namely, the Pakistan Air Force has always given a good account of itself. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is the only world class institution that Pakistan has produced in its chequered history. This fact is not only borne out in all the previous wars but most brilliantly and indisputably during operation Swift Retort in 2019, the last time Pakistan and Indian Air forces locked horns, after the war of 1971. During that fateful day on Feb 27, 2019, PAF enabled Pakistan to establish its conventional deterrence and prevented India from setting a new norm of launching punitive air strikes against Pakistan at will with impunity. Indian dream of emulating Israeli paradigm in Sub-continent was shattered by PAF with a brilliant riposte in less than 24 hours. In that aerial conflict, incidentally the only one in the annals of Airwar in which both sides used BVR weapons and AWACS platforms, PAF completely dominated the skies. India’s resort, in the aftermath, to the threat of escalation by using Brahamos rather than sustaining air operations which it initiated on 26th, was as clear an admission of aerial defeat as one could get.

Given this background, it was very much on the cards that the enemies of Pakistan would target PAF to undermine its fighting potential. If they cannot beat it in the arena, they can sap its strength through other machinations. One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that a “foreign hand”, with deep penetration in the inner sanctum of strategic decision-making in Pakistan, would leave no stone unturned to forestall any future “Swift retort”.

In an organization whose main strength is the elan of its human capital, and an ethos of aggressive command, what better way to kickstart a process of decline than by starting from the top. They got their opportunity in 2021 when PAF was to get its new chief. The most incompetent, and corrupt leader was appointed for this cutting-edge fighting organization, and what followed ever since has been nothing but the tragic consequences of that fateful decision.

We cannot sit idly as this most vital institution of Pakistan defense is rotting from within. This white paper is an attempt to highlight and bring to the attention of the public and relevant authorities the stupendous, and almost irreversible damage being done to PAF by its current Chief, Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu.

The information highlights salient facts regarding the damage that is being done to PAF by its current chief. What is highlighted here is just the tip of the iceberg, and is most typical of the general state of affairs in the institution.  Any thorough investigation would reveal a lot more along similar lines. The author takes full responsibility of stated facts and if challenged,
can come forward in any court of law to defend the contents.

Facts

Zaheer Ahmed Baber joined the PAF in 1985 (with references due to poor academic record) and graduated in 1986 at the bottom of his course. Throughout his career he remained a low performer in every professional course and assignment. It is well known in PAF community that Baber Sidhu was not worthy of promotion beyond the rank of Wing Commander as he had not even accumulated the requisite flying hours. For example, by comparison, his contemporaries have flying hours on just one type of aircraft equal to his lifetime grand total. Both his lack of medical fitness and phobia of fighter flying have contributed to such below-par flying hours. This is the reason he faked his position in 23rd march fly past of 2021 as he could not take the stress of maneuvering.

Lacking any professional merit and credentials, Baber Sidhu used manipulation, connections, sycophancy, and loopholes in the system to advance his career. Using his connections, particularly with General Bajwa (Jat connection) and Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed (retd), he managed his way to the top. Imagine, a person shy of flying combat aircraft, shy of public speaking, and a low average grader in the most prestigious Combat Commanders Course (the benchmark for pilots), is now leading Pakistan Air Force!

Since becoming the CAS, Baber Sidhu’s only priority has been to find ways of looting the public exchequer and abusing PAF’s resources for his personal, family, extended family, and friends’ enjoyment. The Chinese proverb that fish rots from the head is an apt description of what is happening to the PAF.

As incompetency, corruption, and favoritism are running rife at the top the fighting ethos, culture and institutions of PAF built over decades are in a serious state of jeopardy. It is not possible to go into the details of all his nefarious actions, but some of his “exploits” since coming to power are listed below and can be easily verified by an impartial commission or JIT.

Baber Sidhu has converted a huge amount from Govt official Funds given in the budget, amounting to billions, to illegal funds (hidden and Black money) for his personal use. He is likely to take large amount with him prior to retirement in 2024.

He has purchased large area of agricultural land by using black money. He is now planning to reward his accomplices by awarding them this illegally acquired land so that they keep quiet about his exploits. In this process he himself is going to take away a prime, huge sized piece of agricultural land in Chakwal.

He has 03 houses in Islamabad; he initially purchased one after becoming AVM (Air Vice Marshal) and remaining two has been bought in his current appointment. His house in F-7 Islamabad is being built and another one is being renovated by using black money. He has also forcibly occupied extra land besides both his houses in F-7 using the authority of his office. CDA is helpless and unable to do anything.

In order to get kickbacks Baber Sidhu has used PAF funds to purchase costly equipment of no operational use for the Air Force. Examples include, the procurement of useless VIP aircraft i.e. King Air, Beach craft, Airbus, Global-6000, various UAVs etc. In these deals, he has taken heavy kickbacks in Pakistan and abroad. He uses specific companies for this purpose and his brothers manage his dirty deals at the backend so that he appears clean. He conducts bogus and fake Audit / Inquiries on corruption in PAF to pose and show his fake face to the general public & PAF personnel, whereas NO substantial action has been taken on any inquiry despite clear evidence and attribution of blames. Few examples of ALREADY CONCLUDED INQUIRIES with zero accountability are; delay in JF-17 Block 3 strategic programme, corruption in Engineering / Support Branches and Project Falcon.

Baber Sidhu is the only Chief in the history of PAF who uses special PAF aircraft for visits to foreign countries along with his entire family. He insidiously uses his foreign trips on PAF aircraft to smuggle foreign currency to offshore accounts in the names of his family members (this can be easily verified). He also takes a large sum of foreign currency as “IMPREST MONEY” for his foreign tours and utilizes this money for his personal use. In this way, Baber Sidhu has siphoned off almost US $75.00 million dollars to offshore accounts. It is for this specific reason that he travels to foreign countries in exclusive PAF aircraft with his family. Particularly, a lot of foreign currency has been laundered to accounts in Turkey and UAE.

Baber Sidhu has purchased a large number of Luxury vehicles from Black money, and then made many of these available for personal use for his family / friends at Kharian and Gujrat. He has plans to take a good number of these vehicles with him after retirement as these are unaccounted and non-traceable vehicles having been purchased out of black money.  He is obsessed with VIP vehicles and controls them directly even those which are authorized to be used by senior officers at AHQ.

He has kept a VIP house (PSO-7 at Islamabad E9 Air Headquarter) designated for use by AVM or above rank officer for himself, in addition to his official residence, which is used by his brother and other family members for the last 2½ years. All the expenses are free and given from Govt money. These days he is spending a huge amount of money on the renovation and extension of this house as his post-retirement abode.

He has done useless VVIP renovations at the Hospital in Islamabad, CAS Houses across multiple PAF sites, built resorts in Northern areas i.e. Shangri-La, designated VVIP rooms at all PAF messes specifically for use by his family members and friends. His family and friends also illegally use C130 and VIP aircraft. He has a special focus on his brother’s political future who resides in Kharian. He is building an Air University, NASTP complex and medical hospital there to gain political mileage for his brother. It is difficult to understand by anyone with knowledge in these matters the significance and relevance of Kharian for PAF. He is very clever and plays dual game in political circles by promoting his brothers for different political parties by abusing his public office and trust.

Baber Sidhu with almost zero professional credentials and below average career in the PAF, nevertheless is trying to build a sham legacy through showy projects. He has even twisted a perfectly valid concept of indigenization and self-reliance to an exercise in self-aggrandizement and for ulterior motives. The case in point is Baber Sidhu’s pet project, the National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP). Leaving aside the feasibility of such a project, given the country’s educational and technological prowess, he has even ignored the Air Staff advice in going about it in a reckless fashion, throwing money, billions of rupees, in building a huge infrastructure in multiple cities, with no practical vision on how to capitalize on the investment. There is no road map of development and the project is likely to fall apart in the near future having wasted huge sums of public money already. This is criminal and he is hiding behind the fact that no audit is ever likely to take place to hold him accountable for such a massive waste of public exchequer. The irony is that the proven and real capacity which Pakistan has acquired, for example, JF-17, is put on a back burner as the criminal delay of JF-17 block 3 demonstrated for this pie in the sky unrealistic project.
As a man with a guilty conscience and lot to hide, like some mafia boss,  Baber Sidhu is using many of the engineers temporarily employed in NASTP to carry out surveillance of his Air Staff by intruding in their personal lives (recording phone calls, make videos, track movements etc). He uses such tactics to keep Air Staff quiet about his own malpractices. He is misleading the Govt on NASTP by wrongly projecting it as a success. NASTP is his post-retirement settlement plan to remain relevant and continue robbing the Govt; for this, he is putting his confidants in the required places and is cleverly making efforts to merge PAC, KAMRA and AWC in NASTP; something which will destroy all these PAF institutions, built over years, for good. PAC Kamra is a part and parcel of the Defense Production Division supporting all the Armed Forces with secondments from Army/Navy as well; therefore, its merger with NASTP is beyond the comprehension of everyone at PAC. Baber Sidhu has also merged PAF Engineering Depots with NASTP and the routine work done by these depots is being wrongly projected as NASTP achievements. In order to get support for his ill-intended ideas he vehemently backed the appointment of Air Marshal (Retd) Farhat Hussain as Aviation Advisor to PM in the interim setup. AIR MARSHAL (RETD) FARHAT IS A KNOWN CORRUPT OFFICER WITH A VERY DARK PAST IN THE PAF. His exploits of plundering service funds and resources during his tenure as Chief Project Director JF-17 Program and Chairman Kamra Complex are well known to senior people and a shame/disgrace for the PAF. What a pity that we have such men advising the government on sensitive matters!

Baber Sidhu having the syndrome of an insecure person knowing full well how undeservedly he has acquired his position, has surrounded himself with like-minded people who implement his poorly conceived policies which are not even debated in the Air Headquarters with Air Staff. Most serious is the major change in the training of pilots / engineers at PAF Academy Risalpur. He is trying to forcibly implement a foreign training system at the Academy without due diligence and discussions on the merits of such a system. No one in the Air Staff except his accomplices is convinced on the new training system but are unable to stop him. He has also reverted many good policies of his predecessors; to name few he has no focus on CASS, rather he has placed his favorites to stall the project, he has stopped the development of Airmen Academy at Korangi, CENTAIC is stagnant, etc.

Most critically, throughout his tenure he has had no focus on ACE (Air power center of Excellence), the combat hub of PAF. It must be noted that it is ACE that played the pivotal role in PAF’s response to Indian aggression during the operation Swift Retort. While he completely ignored this elite PAF institution – the nursery of its combat leaders- not even appearing in the graduation of CCS during his tenure, in the final months of his command he used a foreign exercise held at ACE for self projection and pivoting for his extension ambitions.  He projected it as one-of-a-kind exercise, whereas, these are routine exercises and have been going on in the PAF for almost two decades now. Everyone in PAF is clear that the recently conducted exercise was a SELF PROJECTION ACTIVITY, and Baber Sidhu during his participation in this exercise was only focused on convincing the Army Chief about the usefulness of NASTP. Even during his speech, he focused more on NASTP rather than the operational dividends of foreign exercise. Baber Sidhu’s only focus these days is to convince the Army Chief and the interim Govt that for the sake of NASTP his continuation as CAS is necessary and therefore his tenure must be extended. It is widely circulating in PAF circles that he is lobbying and also APPROACHED MINISTRY OF DEFENSE THAT THE INTERIM GOVT IS CONSTITUTIONALLY NOT EMPOWERED TO APPOINT A NEW AIR CHIEF AND HENCE HIS EXTENSION IN OFFICE.

He has no vision of his own therefore he does not go to any War college or academic institution or operational area, rather it is alarming that he has not addressed the PAF personnel for long and has not spelled out any vision (other than NASTP) for PAF.

Baber Sidhu having demonstrated no merit throughout his life has been giving preference to low merit people in promotions, especially in the senior cadres. He is very venomous and vindictive and holds a personal grudge against those who differ with him on professional and technical grounds. Personal loyalty and favoritism are his guiding lights in all important appointments. Not surprisingly, he has been given the title of “MERIT KILLER” in the PAF. In the recent past he has made unparalleled decisions in retiring men of honor and dignity well poised to lead the Air Force in the future while retaining low merit, old age and medically unfit Air Staff to serve his purpose. A few examples include the retention of multiple times superseded Air Staff against all military norms. Examples of superseded Air Staff include AVM Nadeem Sabir (adjusted in JSHQ setup), AVM Imtiaz Sattar (no appointment, passing time at home), AVM Imran Majid (AOC PAF Airmen Academy Korangi), AVM Nadeem Akhtar (Chairman Kamra). Retention of Air Staff blamed for financial corruption/fraud in various inquiries and their placement at important posts is a norm these days to get favors from them and, in some cases, to please highly placed Govt officials. Examples of corrupt Air Staff include AVM Zafar Aslam and AVM Nadeem Sabir who have been directly blamed in financial inquiries. Furthermore, AVM Zafar Aslam has been spared by Baber Sidhu and placed at a key appointment of DG Welfare & Rehab who controls a large amount of PAF non-public funds. Under CAS’s direction, AVM Zafar is BUILDING A COMMERCIAL PLAZA IN FAZAIA-I on the private plot of Baber Sidhu UTILIZING Fazaia Housing funds.

Another transgression is the promotion of AVM Imran Qadir (two times superseded officer promoted to AVM which is unprecedented in PAF’s history). Recently, he has created more history and was promoted multiple times superseded and a totally incompetent officer i.e. Air Commodore Liaquatullah of NASTP to the rank of AVM without holding a promotion board. His actual plan is to systematically erase at least two generations of honest and upright senior Air Staff before his own retirement to ensure no one with knowledge and professional courage is left to report or correct his corruption.

Baber Sidhu appointed his confidant AVM Shakeel Ghazanfar as his DG Air Intelligence after assuming office in 2021. His only job is to do shameful acts like intruding in the lives of Air Staff by monitoring their daily moves, phones, and bug their transports / homes. Moreover, the entire Intelligence setup of PAF has been working for the personal chores of Baber Sidhu and his friends. Air Intelligence has been specifically tasked to facilitate the corrupt practices of his elder brother by monitoring and persuading different civilian personnel. Over time, AVM Shakeel by virtue of his knowledge about the corrupt practices of Baber Sidhu has become very powerful. AVM Shakeel showed his muscle with Baber Sidhu by getting his brother (Air Cdre retd Shaheen Ghazanfar) a full pardon and getting his dismissal from service on corruption converted to a normal retirement with all benefits restored. This is unprecedented in PAF history that a convicted person punished for proven corruption was pardoned and benefits restored. This action has been taken by Baber Sidhu under the duress of AVM Shakeel.

Baber Sidhu in violation of PAF Act is retaining in service three-star officers beyond the authorized age limit of 57 years. This has created a very serious promotion blockade. He is doing all this to favor his cronies. Examples are Air Marshal Hamid Rasheed Randhawa who completed his 57 years age in May, 2023, and has been appointed as VCAS in October, 2023, Air Marshal Zulfiqar has completed his 57 years age in August, 2023 but still serving, likewise Air Marshal Marwat has completed his 57 years age in September, 2023 but is also serving. On the other hand, Air Marshal Amir Masood who was young and deserving candidate for VCAS appointment was retired at the age of 56 just because he used to speak his min in the Air Board meetings. Additionally, he is giving very short extensions (2-6 months) to the Air Staff without any rationale. This has completely paralyzed the working of Air Headquarters.

It is unprecedented in PAFs history that serving Air Marshals/ AVMs have no appointments and have to forcibly stay at home. Examples are Air Marshal Tariq Zia and AVM Imtiaz Sattar. Whereas the cronies of Air Chief have been given dual offices i.e. AVM Ehsan (DCAS Personnel & Commander AFSC).

Conclusion

It is no exaggeration that over the years PAF has proved that it deserves the sobriquet, the pride of Pakistan. It has always given a good account of itself in every conflict. Impartial foreign commentators and experts have rightly regarded it as a world-class, tactical Air Force, with very high professional standards. It is indeed the tip of the sword of Pakistan’s defense. It is our duty to protect this tip of the sword of Pakistan from rusting because of inept and corrupt leadership. This has become all the more urgent because India has set the precedent of using air power under the nuclear umbrella during Balakot strike. It is now an instrument of choice to achieve quick tactical dividends without endangering a full-scale confrontation. The stakes cannot be higher.  The time to act is Now, before it is too late. We all know what happened, in our recent past, when an undeserving man was given a promotion to a service chief and then, to add insult to an injury, an extension. The nation is still paying the price for that mistake. Zaheer Ahmed Baber, who did not deserve to go beyond the rank of Wing commander, must be held accountable for his actions, and prevented from further destroying the PAF. Most importantly, he should be prevented at all costs from achieving his now very obvious ambition of getting an extension. Enough is enough!

Pakistan to begin “secret peace talks” with the terror group TTP, again?

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Pakistan is once again attempting to hold peace talks with the Pakistani terror group the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, at a time when Pakistani military chief is negotiating for defence cooperation in the US.

As per reports in local media, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl faction), a known Islamist political party with close links to Islamist militancy, seems to have been tasked with the agenda. The party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman held a meeting with Afghanistan’s Charge d’Affaires in Islamabad, Sardar Shakib Ahmad, at his residence, to initiate these talks, that are being kept a secret.

During the meeting, Sardar Shakib Ahmad extended an invitation to Maulana Fazlur Rehman to visit Kabul on behalf of the Afghan Interim Government.

But more importantly, this is being reported as Pakistan’s attempt to reopen dialogue with the terrorist group, whose leadership is said to be based out of Afghanistan.

Earlier such peace talks have always failed and ended up strengthening the terrorist group.

Some instances of the failed peace talks and ceasefire attempts between the Pakistani government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) over the past 15 years include:

  1. 2004-2007: Before the formal establishment of the TTP, there were sporadic attempts at peace agreements with various militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These early efforts were not entirely successful in establishing lasting peace.
  2. 2008-2009: The first formal peace agreement between the Pakistani government and the TTP took place in the Swat Valley in early 2009. The agreement, known as the Swat Peace Deal, was criticized for conceding too much to the militants. However, it eventually collapsed, leading to a full-scale military operation in Swat.
  3. 2014: In early 2014, the Pakistani government initiated talks with the TTP. A committee was formed to facilitate negotiations, but the process faced challenges from the beginning. The TTP demanded the implementation of Sharia law and the release of prisoners, among other conditions. The talks broke down after a series of militant attacks and the killing of military personnel.
  4. 2017-2018: In 2017, reports surfaced about backchannel talks between the Pakistani government and the TTP. However, these talks did not lead to a formal agreement, and the TTP continued its attacks.
  5. 2019: In July 2019, the Pakistani government announced that it was considering talks with the TTP, signaling a potential shift in its approach. However, no formal negotiations materialized, and the security situation remained volatile.

It’s important to note that the history of peace talks with the TTP is marked by a cycle of negotiations, breakdowns, and military operations. However, each time the Pakistani space has ceded space to such terror groups, the public has had to face the brunt with increase terrorist activity.

Already Pakistan is seeing a rise in terrorism, with the current year seeing several terror attacks across the country, and in such an environment another round of talks in only going to further embolden the terror groups operating in Pakistan.

7 questions the US must ask from the Pakistan Army chief General Asim Munir as he visits Washington

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The Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir is on an extended visit of the US, and is expected to hold meetings with key defence, foreign policy and national security officials as per media reports.

Although the visit was announced by the army’s media wing, details of his engagements have not been disclosed. Diplomatic sources told Pakistani media in Washington that he was likely to meet the US secretaries of defence and state, as well as the White House national security adviser.

The general is visiting the US in the backdrop of an environment in Pakistan where the the country’s former and last Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is currently in jail over frivolous charges, accused Washington of colluding with Pakistani politicians for removing him from power last year, in a no-confidence motion at the parliament, which is believed to be actually orchestrated by the Pakistani military.

Question #2: Will the Pakistani Military stop interfering in the country’s democratic progress?

The Pakistan Army is being accused of orchestrating a move against the last government of Imran Khan last year and before that meddling in the 2018 elections in favor of Khan, and getting Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister disqualified for life from contesting elections with fabricated charges, in collusion with the Pakistani judiciary.

The Pakistan Armed Forces have a long history of direct and indirect control in the country since its creation in 1947, and the military leadership must be questioned over these practices that lead to a regression in the democratic process.

Now there are reports that Khan’s party is being dismantled and his party members are being coerced to leave it, at the behest of the military. With Khan and several other leaders in jail over frivolous charges, there is a big question mark over the legitimacy of the next elections scheduled for February next year.

Question # 2: Why are Pakistani jihadis resurfacing once again in flood-hit regions of Pakistan?

In an investigation by South Asia Press (SAP), we revealed how disasters have facilitated the return of Islamist terrorist organizations, such as the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, in nearly all regions of the country.  On the surface, these terrorists want to serve the marginalized people, but in reality, as SAP found out, they are using this opportunity to proselytize jihadi ideology and reestablish bases of support in the country. Not only that, these terror groups are also collecting funds, despite assurances from Pakistan to the international watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that terror-financing is no more allowed in the country. It is pertinent to mention here the long history of Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence services of being involved in the formation of jihadi groups, as well as their attempts to utilize militant groups for their so-called strategic agendas – in Afghanistan, India, Kashmir and even against the separatist movement in Balochistan.

Question # 3: Can the Pakistani military be held accountable for the rampant human rights abuses in Balochistan?

The Baloch separatist movement in south-western Pakistan, is a well known insurgency, as old as Pakistan itself, with several secret and unannounced military operations by Pakistan’s Armed Forces in the region. The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch has documented the conduct of military atrocities, including  extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances targeting not only insurgents but innocent Baloch too. The battered bodies of Baloch missing persons are found on a daily basis in Balochistan. The military is also known to outsource military operations to private militias or “death squads”, revealed by an in-depth investigation by South Asia Press. Furthermore, representatives of the Baloch Human Rights Council have reported the exploitation of natural resources in the region, while the local population remains extremely poor. Now with the advent of Chinese interests in the area, it is being reported that the Baloch are being displaced from their own lands to make space for Chinese projects, that will only benefit the elites of the two countries.

Question #4: When will the Pakistani military close its secret military prisons that are spread throughout Pakistan? 

The Pakistani Army operates secret military tribunals and internment centers all throughout Pakistan, including 43 secretive detention centres just in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which have become the sites of starvation, torture, and extrajudicial executions of insurgents, alleged terrorists, their sympathizers, human rights defenders, and anyone who criticizes the military’s oversized presence and role in the country.

There have been several cases of mysterious deaths being reported at these internment centers but no one has been held accountable.

An Amnesty International report has documented the extrajudicial trial by the Pakistani military of a well-known activist Idris Khattak on charges of espionage, who had previously been a victim of enforced disappearance.

Question # 5 Why is Pakistani military best friends with the Afghan Taliban?

The Pakistani military is known for its close ties with the Afghan Taliban and one of the first official visitors after the fall of Kabul was of the former ISI chief General Faiz Hameed. He visited the Afghan capital right after the Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan in August 2021. This visit led to the development of bilateral relations between the two countries, most prominently through coal exports and the implementation of infrastructure projects. Furthermore, Pakistan has also become one of the key promoters of the Afghan Taliban on the global front, appealing for the reestablishment of their relations with the international community, including the United States.

Question # 6: Can the Pakistani military stop censoring the local and international media operating in the country? 

Pakistan currently ranks an alarming 157 out of 180 in the media freedom index by RSF and this media clampdown is facilitated by draconian laws such as the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021 and the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016, including its proposed 2022 amendments.

According to RSF, Pakistani military regularly abducts journalists to intimidate them. RSF has documented several such cases in the past, for example, against the Express Tribune editor Bilal Farooqui in September 2020, court reporter Matiullah Jan in July 2020, and Taha Siddiqui, editor in chief of South Asia Press, who narrowly escaped a kidnapping and assassination attempt in 2018 and now lives in self-imposed exile in France.

“The many cases of harassment that RSF has registered from Pakistan have one thing in common – all the journalists concerned had, in one way or another, criticised the army’s role in Pakistani politics,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, in a 2022 report.

Question #7: Why has there been an increase in cases of Transnational Repression by Pakistan in the West?

In the last five years first under the former army chief General Bajwa and now under General Munir, since he took power last year, there have been several cases of transnational repression in the West against exiled Pakistanis.

Shahzbad Akbar, a former member of Imran Khan’s government, was attacked with acid this month, in the U.K. by a man who knocked on his door, and then subsequently sprayed acid on his face. Luckily, Akbar shielded his face and minimized the injuries, that could have caused him blindness. Another is the case of Waqas Goraya, a Pakistani social media activist living in self-imposed exile in Netherlands. Goraya had to go underground after the Dutch authorities tipped him off about an assassination plot against him. In a joint operation between the Dutch and British authorities, the would-be assassin of Goraya, Gohir Khan, a Pakistani origin British national was arrested and convicted to life by the UK courts. Police investigations reveal Khan had a handler in Pakistan who has disappeared since the plot got exposed. Preceding to this assassination attempt, several Pakistani dissidents have been contacted in recent years by foreign intelligence agencies to tell them of an assassination plot against them. Cases include prominent scholars like Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, as reported by the Guardian this year, and of Mr. Siddiqui, editor-in-chief South Asia Press.

There are also questions over the two mysterious deaths of Pakistani exiled activists from Balochistan. The first happened in April 2020, in Sweden where Sajid Hussain went missing for some weeks and then was found dead in a river, and the second in December 2020 when Karima Baloch, another Baloch origin individual in exile in Canada was found dead in a lake after briefly going missing.

It is pertinent to note here that Pakistan’s last military Dictator General Pervez Musharraf had called for carrying out assassinations of Pakistani dissidents globally in an interview to a local journalist a few years ago.

As the Pakistan Army chief General Asim Munir meets with his counterparts and other political leaders in the US, it is important that the American administration demand from him to abide by democratic practices back in Pakistan, and ensure that human rights values are respected.

Pakistanis loot expelled Afghan refugees property and belongings they are forced to leave behind

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In a recent investigation by the English daily Dawn, it has been revealed that the Pakistani government has asked 1.7 million undocumented refugees to leave Pakistan and as per some reports, has also instructed them that they cannot take more than 50 thousand Pakistani rupees with them.

Due to such conditions placed by the government, Afghan refugees are unsure of their survival in Afghanistan, many of whom have not ever lived in their country of origin.

Pakistanis busy taking advantage of the compulsions of refugees.

A man named Mohammad Asif, who lived in Machar colony in Pakistan, had to sell his shop for 1/10th of the selling price. When asked why he did not hold out for a better deal, he replied that he was afraid that the Pakistani police would arrest him. Asif also narrated the story of his uncle who bought a house for Rs 5.2 million and had to sell it for Rs 1.4 million.

Similarly, Habib Ullah, who is 40 years old and used to run a vegetable shop in Peshawar had to sell his shop. For many years, his wife and his children grew up relying on this shop. But now due to Pakistani government’s expulsion orders, Habib Ullah was forced to flee and sell the shop at a lower price.

Already, undocumented Afghans had difficulty doing business or financial transactions through banks, and they would be represented by Pakistanis. With the recent turn of things, many Afghan refugees are complaining that the Pakistanis representing them financially are not shying away from taking advantage of their situation and siphoning off their hard earned incomes.

Amnesty International calls out Pakistan’s inhumane behavior

Leading human rights organizations like the Amnesty International have also expressed their opposition to the expulsion drive of Afghans by Pakistan. Livia Saccardi, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for operations in South Asia, has said that Pakistan is currently using Afghan refugees as political pawns and sending them back to Afghanistan which is currently under Taliban rule.

The organization has also claimed that these Pakistanis are currently not only targeting those who do not have ‘Proof of Registration’ (POR), but they are also harassing those legitimate refugees who have POR, or in some cases even Pakistanis of Pashtun ethnic origin. Recently, as reported by the organization, there emerged a case of disappearance of a 17 year old boy who was born in Pakistan and had all the necessary documents but was still picked up from Karachi and kept in a detention center while his family members were not allowed to meet the boy.

Amnesty has warned that if the Pakistani government does not stop this deportation now, then the safety, education and life of thousands of Afghans, especially women and girls, will be at stake.