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Acting Afghan PM Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund calls on former officials to return home

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Afghanistan’s new Acting Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund has called on former officials who fled when the Taliban seized power last month to return to the country, saying the group “will guarantee their security and safety”, Al Jazeera reported.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Akhund also said that the caretaker government would guarantee the security of diplomats, embassies and humanitarian relief institutions, stressing that the group wanted to establish positive and strong relations with countries in the region and beyond.

Akhund, a close associate and political adviser to the late Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban and its first supreme leader, said the movement’s leaders faced “a great responsibility and test” towards the Afghan people.

“We have suffered huge losses in money and lives for this historical moment in the history of Afghanistan,” Akhund added.

“The stage of bloodshed, killing and contempt for people in Afghanistan has ended, and we have paid dearly for this.”

Akhund also reiterated the Taliban’s promise of amnesty for anyone who has worked alongside the US and the administration it backed following its 2001 invasion, the report said.

“No one will be able to prove that he was subjected to revenge. And in such tense circumstances, it is easy to do what you want. But the movement is disciplined and controls its gunmen. And, we have not harmed anyone because of his previous actions,” he said.

On Tuesday night, the Taliban announced the formation of Afghanistan’s caretaker government, with Akhund appointed as Acting Prime Minister.

In a statement following the announcement, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said the urgent task would be to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation, and the country would seek “strong and healthy relations” with its neighbours and all other countries.

Besides the appointment of Akhund, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi were named acting Deputy Prime Ministers, while Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, was appointed as Acting Defense Minister.

Amir Khan Muttaqi was appointed as Acting Foreign Minister, and Sarajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani Network terror group, was named Acting Interior Minister.

According to the Taliban, the appointments were not final as these were acting positions, and the remaining posts would be announced later.

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Pakistan’s oil industry faces collapse amid liquidity crunch

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Pakistan’s oil companies have warned that the industry is on the “brink of collapse” as the dollar liquidity crisis persists and their cost of doing balloons due to the Pakistani rupees (PKR) devaluation.

To meet the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) demand, the government removed the dollar cap, resulting in the rupee falling to a historic low of 276.58 PKR in the interbank market, Geo News reported.

In a letter to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and Energy Ministry, the Oil Companies Advisory Council (OCAC) said that the “sudden depreciation” of the local rupee has caused losses worth billions of rupees to the industry as their letters of credit (LCs) are expected to be settled on the new rates, “whereas the related product has already been sold”.

The government has also restricted LCs due to dwindling foreign exchange reserves, which fell to $3,086.2 million as of January 27, and are enough for just 18.5 days, Geo News reported.

Pakistan is facing a balance of payments crisis and the plummeting value of the rupee is pushing up the price of imported goods.

Energy comprises a large chunk of Pakistan’s import bill.

Pakistan typically meets more than a third of its annual power demand, using imported natural gas, prices for which shot up following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

These losses, the OCAC said, not only have an impact on the profitability of the sector, which is already under severe pressure, but also on its viability since these setbacks in some cases might exceed the “entire year’s profit for the sector”, Geo News reported.

“It is requested to urgently revise this mechanism and ensure that exchange losses of the sector are fully reimbursed if the viability of the industry and supplies to retail outlets are to be ensured,” the OCAC told the authorities.

The letter mentioned that OGRA has adopted the practice of not fully passing on the impact of the rupee depreciation and instead putting an immense burden on the sector.

Due to the challenges still being faced by the sector of previous exchange rate adjustments and the enormous impact of the current depreciation, the OCAC said it is crucial that OGRA passes the impact of the exchange rates in one go and not stagger this compensation, Geo News reported.

The council added that due to an increase in oil prices and successive depreciation of the Pakistani rupee over the last 18 months, the trade finance limits available from the banking sector to the industry have become inadequate.

As a result of the recent devaluation alone, the LC limits have overnight shrunk by 15-20 per cent, the OCAC said.

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Syria rejects report on alleged chemical attack

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 Syria has rejected a recent report by an intergovernmental chemical watchdog that accuses the war-torn country’s forces of a chemical attack near Damascus in 2018 as “politicised” by the US and its Western allies.

The report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is used by the US and its Western allies to justify their attack against Syria launched just days after the alleged chemical attack in the Douma suburb east of Damascus five years ago, Xinhua news agency quoted Milad Atiyeh, the country’s permanent representative to OPCW, as saying at a press conference.

“On 14 April 2018, days after the alleged Douma incident, the US, Britain and France launched a barbaric attack on Syria under false pretexts and even without waiting for the results of investigations of this incident.

“Now such countries are investing in this report … to exert more political pressures, impose more sanctions and embargo on the Syrian people and to prevent Syria from moving on in the reconstruction process,” he said.

On January 27, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team issued a report, claiming that there are reasonable grounds to believe the Syrian air forces were the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack on April 7, 2018 in Douma.

During the alleged attack, at least one helicopter of the Syrian “Tiger Forces” Elite Unit dropped two yellow cylinders containing toxic chlorine gas on two apartment buildings in a residential area in Douma, killing 43 and affecting dozens more, according to the report.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied all reports that involve the Syrian military in the alleged attack

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Mystery how suicide bomber managed to sneak in to Peshawar mosque

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 The January 31 suicide bombing at the sprawling mosque in Peshawar’s Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines area was among the deadliest to hit this city.

Headquarters to capital city police and half a dozen other units including the frontier reserve police, the special security unit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the counter terrorism department, the elite force, telecommunication, rapid response force and special combat unit, it is no ordinary facility, Dawn reported.

With a single entry and exit point, where guards ask all visitors for identification and search their vehicles, it is a mystery how a suicide bomber managed to sneak in, and that too with explosives.

Investigators acknowledge it is not an easy case to solve.

With more than 2,000 staff working for the many units, and two to three hundred visitors daily, profiling each individual alongside reviewing hours of CCTV footage from the lone camera outside the mosque’s front gate and the compound, will be a time-consuming and painstaking task.

Equally difficult is collecting forensic evidence from underneath the debris of the collapsed roof that caused the most damage and casualties, Dawn reported.

A chapter of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Mohmand, which accepted responsibility for the attack, described the bomber as 25-year-old Huzaifa — probably an organisational name given to an individual, like Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Police have so far recovered two heads from under the rubble, so mutilated that they could not be run through the Nadra database for positive identification.

Efforts are now on to reconstruct the faces and produce identikits, Dawn reported.

The high-walled compound is manned by police round the clock. It is difficult to get in without being questioned and asked for identity papers.

However, in the absence of a single command authority, six to eight police guards can barely cope with the task of searching and establishing the identities of the 2,000-plus staff and the hundreds of visitors that pass these gates every day.

“There was a security lapse,” acknowledged the Inspector General of Police, Moazzam Jah.

Senior police officials say that while there has been an alarming and disturbing increase in threat alerts of possible militant attacks in some key districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there was no specific threat from the intelligence agencies regarding the Police Lines compound, Dawn reported.

Investigators continue to pore over hours of video footage and check the personal profiles of thousands of employees to look for possible suspects.

There are also procedural questions: did the bomber walk in through the main gate; did he carry the explosives on him or was there someone inside the compound that helped him smuggle the explosives in beforehand. Intelligence and police sources speculate that the bomber couldn’t have pulled off such an audacious task without inside help, Dawn reported.

Soon after the bombing, TTP’s Mohmand chapter — formerly known as the Jamaatul Ahrar — claimed responsibility for the attack through its social media handles, saying that it was carried out to avenge the death of its leader, Umar Khalid Khurasani, who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2022, the fourth such revenge attack so far.

A little later, however, TTP Central issued a denial, insisting it was against its policy to attack mosques.

Investigators believe this was a distraction, since the militant commander who accepted responsibility for the bombing had only recently been appointed by TTP Central to head the Zhob Division (Wilayah in militants’ parlance) in Balochistan.

Amaq, a news agency linked to the Islamic State, also made its own claim of responsibility for the attack, Dawn reported.

Police and investigating agencies, however, see the TTP’s fingerprints on the attack.

Investigators believe that the militant groups that form the TTP enjoy operational independence, even if their actions are at variance with the organisation’s central policy guidelines.

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