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Pakistan executes two terrorists after lifting moratorium on death penalty

Islamabad: Two terrorists were hanged on Friday in Pakistan in the first executions since 2008, officials said, after the government ended a moratorium on the death penalty earlier this week.

The government ended the six-year ban on capital punishment for terror-related cases following a brutal terror attack on a school in Peshawar on Tuesday that killed 149 people, mostly children.

"Yes, two militants Aqil alias Doctor Usman and Arshad Mehmood have been hanged in Faisalabad jail," Shuja Khanzada, Home Minister of central Punjab province, where the executions took place, said.

A senior official from the prison department also confirmed the executions. Aqil, who uses the name Doctor Usman, was convicted for an attack on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 and was arrested after being injured.

Arshad Mehmood was convicted for his involvement in a 2003 assassination attempt on former president General Pervez Musharraf. On Thursday, Pakistan's military chief signed death warrants for six terrorists on death row after the government ended the death penalty moratorium on Wednesday.

Just hours later, the government warned prison officials of a possible jailbreak in the restive northwest province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa amid fears that terrorist groups could try to spring high-ranking comrades from jails to avoid the noose.

Pakistan's decision to relinquish a ban on the death penalty in terror-related cases came as the country's political and military leaders have vowed to wipe out the homegrown Islamist insurgency following Tuesday's attack on the army school.

The United Nations called for Pakistan to reconsider executing terror suspects, saying that "the death penalty has no measurable deterrent effect on levels of insurgent and terrorist violence" and "may even be counter-productive". "We urge the Government not to succumb to wide-spread calls for revenge," said UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville.

Pakistan imposed a de facto moratorium on civilian executions in 2008, though hanging remains on the statute book and judges continue to pass the death sentence. Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process. The government says that more than 500 convicts are related to terror cases.

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Pak army air strike kills 57 terrorists

Islamabad: At least 57 terrorists were killed in air strikes carried out by the Pakistani military in Khyber Agency's Tirah Valley, media reported. 

"The fresh operation was launched after Tuesday's tragic incident, in which at least 145 people mostly school children died," tweeted director general Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj General Asim Bajwa, Dawn online reported Thursday. 

In the aftermath of deadly Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar, Pakistan's military launched 20 air strikes. General Bajwa added that the operation was ongoing.

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Veena Malik sentenced to 26 years in jail for blasphemy in Pak

Islamabad: The owner of Pakistan's biggest media group, Geo TV along with actor Veena Malik and her husband was sentenced to 26 years in prison by an anti-terrorism court for allegedly airing a blasphemous programme.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of Geo and Jang group, was accused of allowing the airing of a blasphemous programme by Geo television in May, which played a religious song while staging a mock marriage of Malik with Bashir.

Judge Shahbaz Khan also sentenced both Malik and Bashir along with TV host Shaista Wahidi for 26 years each. The ATC also imposed a 1.3 million Pakistani rupees fine on the convicts and ordered that their properties should be sold to raise the fine, if they failed to pay it. The judge said in his judgment that all four accused committed profanity. The court in its 40-page verdict also asked the police to arrest the convicts, an official said.

He said that the convict can appeal in the regional high court in Gilgit-Baltistan. There are reports that all four are out of Pakistan. Rahman resides in the UAE and the other three also went abroad after recieving threats by militant organisations.

It is not known when the arrests would be carried out. Both Wahidi and the Geo group have tendered apology after the allegations were levelled but the extremists in the country refused to accept it. Other blasphemy cases were also registered against them in various cities, including Karachi and Islamabad.

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Sharif urges Obama to take up Kashmir issue with India

Islamabad: US President Barack Obama spoke to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over telephone Friday and urged him to take up the Kashmir issue with India. Sharif said an early resolution of the Kashmir issue would bring enduring peace, stability and economic cooperation to the south Asian region, Dawn online reported. Sharif apprised Obama of Pakistan's relations with India and referred to his visit to India earlier this year, which was aimed at taking the Pakistan-India relations forward.

However, the Pakistani side claimed that the cancellation of foreign secretary level talks by India and the "unprovoked firing" across the Line of Control (LoC) "indicated that India was averse to normalisation of relations with Pakistan."

"Thus, while we remain open to the resumption of bilateral dialogue, the onus is on India to create a conducive environment in this regard," an official statement said. The statement also claimed that President Obama understood Pakistan's position. The two leaders also discussed the state of the ties between the US and Pakistan.

Obama noted that the two countries enjoy a strong and robust relationship, while Sharif felt that the US-Pakistan ties were on an upward trajectory since his government came to power last year. Obama was pleased that Sharif's government had determined the right economic priorities and was trying to overcome the challenges, the report said. During the conversation, Sharif recalled his meeting with the Obama in Washington last year and their subsequent interaction at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March this year, said the official statement.

Obama also informed Sharif of his forthcoming visit to India. Sharif, on the other hand, conveyed the expectation of the people of Pakistan to welcome Obama to Pakistan sometime in the future, according to the report.  Obama also assured Sharif that he would undertake a visit to Pakistan at an early date, as soon as the situation normalised in Pakistan. Discussing the regional situation, the Sharif referred to the improvement in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, as exhibited by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's recent visit to Islamabad.

The US president appreciated the Pakistani premier's efforts in this regard, and called it pivotal for peace and stability in the region. The two leaders agreed to stay engaged to further strengthen Pakistan-US relations, to promote peace and prosperity in South Asia.

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20 injured in grenade attack in Karachi

Islamabad: A hand grenade attack on a camp of Muttahida Qaumi Movement on Friday left 20 people, including three parliamentarians, injured in this Pakistani port city. The hand grenade was thrown at the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) camp in in Orangi Town area where a membership drive was going on, police said.

"Three MQM MPAs Mohammad Hussain, Sheikh Abdullah and Saifuddin Khalid are among the wounded," MQM leader Wasay Jalil said. He said the explosion took place when a large number of people had gathered at the camp set up inside a building compound. At least 20 people were wounded in the attack, police said.

The hand grenade was Russia-made and powerful enough to affect everyone within a ten feet radius of the blast, a Bomb Disposal Squad official said. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar a splinter group of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)- claimed responsibility for the attack. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar's spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Dawn channel that MQM and other political parties who are thriving on the anti-Taliban agenda are on their hit list.

He said that the attacks on Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) besides MQM would continue as the militant outfit has renewed its war against these parties. MQM chief Altaf Hussain has condemned the attack, describing it as a cowardly act. Addressing workers at the Orangi town sector office, Hussain said they should not lose patience and continue their peaceful struggle.

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Nawaz Sharif says will consult separatists before talks with India

Islamabad: Setting aside India's assertion that the Kashmir issue should be handled bilaterally, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Thursday that Pakistan will hold dialogue with Kashmiri separatists and take them into confidence before resuming peace talks with India. "It is our fundamental belief that the Kashmir issue should be resolved through dialogue. My government started dialogue with India but it cancelled scheduled talks between the foreign secretaries, he said while addressing the Kashmir Council in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

"Before starting dialogue with India, I have decided to consult Kashmiri leaders," he said. Pakistan believed the Kashmir issue should be resolved through dialogue in line with UN resolutions, he added. He also referred to what he described as "aggression" by India on the Line of Control (LoC) and said the "Pakistani nation, politicians and army showed unity over the issue".

India had called off planned talks between the Foreign Secretaries in Islamabad in August after Pakistan's envoy in New Delhi called separatists for meetings despite being asked not to do so. Ties plummeted to a low after heavy exchanges of fire on the LoC. Sharif's comments came days ahead of the SAARC Summit in Nepal which will be attended by him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Later in the day, Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said no bilateral meeting between Sharif and Modi was planned on the margins of the SAARC summit. "As regard bilateral meetings with India, we do not have anything to share with you," Aslam said when she was asked about the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders.

During his address to the Council in PoK, Sharif said the world community should play a role "to press India for starting talks for the resolution of the Kashmir issue". He claimed Indian firing on the LoC had harmed confidencebuilding measures.

Sharif said his government was "proactively highlighting the issue of Kashmir at every forum, including at the UN General Assembly". He further claimed India has exhibiting its "traditional stubbornness" on the Kashmir issue and that "declaring the struggle of Kashmiris as terrorism is wrong".

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Pakistan test-fires nuclear capable ballistic missile Hatf IV

Islamabad: Pakistan on Monday successfully test-fired Hatf IV ballistic missile with a range of 900 kilometers.The launch of Shaheen 1A or Hatf IV ballistic missile was aimed at re-validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system. The military said that the impact point of the launch was in the Arabian Sea in the south.

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah, Director General Strategic Plans Division, Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Commander Army Strategic Forces Command and senior officers from the strategic forces, scientists and engineers of strategic organissations witnessed the launch.

Last week Pakistan successfully test fired Shaheen-II, also called Hatf VI, capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to targets as far as 1,500 kilometers. Admiral Zakaullah said Shaheen-1A with its highly accurate and indigenously developed guidance system is amongst the most accurate Missile System. The admiral reiterated Pakistan's desire for peaceful co-existence in the region.President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appreciated the successful test launch.

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Pakistan PM Sharif pledges support for new Afghan president Ashraf Ghani

Islamabad: Looking to overcome years of mistrust and hostility between their two nations, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, promised on Saturday to boost security and trade ties. The two neighbours have accused each other in the past of harbouring anti-government Taliban insurgents across their shared border, and bilateral relations were often tempestuous under the previous Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

But less than two months after taking office, Ghani is paying his first state visit to Pakistan, and the warm words used by himself and Sharif at a joint news conference suggested both sides were making a conscious effort to reset relations.

"We have overcome obstacles of 13 years in three days," said Ghani. "We will not permit the past to destroy the future." Sharif, who was elected last year in a landslide win, called Ghani a "dear brother" and said the two nations had signed agreements to improve train and road links, increase trade and explore defence, border and energy cooperation.

"Our security and future prosperity remain interlinked," he said. "I ... reaffirmed Pakistan's support for the intra-Afghan reconciliation process that the new government is initiating." The Afghan government is pursuing peace talks with the Taliban, who have gained ground as NATO pulls back its troops ahead of a full withdrawal.

Kabul is also increasingly turning to regional powers for support, but it will take more than warm words between Sharif and Ghani to repair damaged ties between their countries. Afghan and US officials have frequently accused Pakistani security services of links to Taliban and Haqqani Network insurgents, who carry out deadly attacks in Afghanistan.

In the past two years, Pakistan has begun levelling the same accusation at Afghanistan, accusing it of tolerating bases belonging to Mullah Fazlullah, the nominal leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a group sworn to overthrow the state.

Diplomats say increased trust and security cooperation is key to tackling the twin insurgencies. But some in the powerful Pakistani security establishment are nervous about Afghanistan's increasingly warm relations with Pakistan's arch rival India. Many Afghan officials also remain suspicious that Pakistan retains ties to some militants as a counter to Indian influence.


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