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Pakistan


Huge flash floods caused by torrential rain hit northwest Pakistan killing at least 53 people, according to officials.

The rain began on April 2 bringing flooding to parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Pre-monsoon rains often cause damage in rural Pakistan and officials said locals had been warned to leave their villages for safer places.

The summer monsoon season is even worse, last year killing dozens.

The weekend’s rains also saw dozens of people taken to hospital with injuries, a national disaster management official, Latif ur Rehman, told the Associated Press.

Footages from the scene showed shops and homes damaged, and bridges swept away.

According to officials, tents and other relief goods had been sent to the region. Hundreds of people have also moved to safer areas, local media reports.

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Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain has denounced St Valentine’s Day, saying the festival has no connection with his country’s culture and should be avoided.

The president told students that it was a Western tradition and conflicted with Muslim culture.

Mamnoon Hussain’s remarks came after a district in north-western Pakistan banned Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Valentine’s Day is popular in many cities in Pakistan, but religious groups have denounced it as decadent.Valentine's Day ban Pakistan

Earlier this week, the local government in Kohat, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told police officers to stop stores from selling Valentine’s Day cards and items.

Kohat district is run by a religious political party and borders Pakistan’s conservative tribal areas.

Meanwhile, the Peshawar local council also passed a resolution to ban celebrations of what it called a “useless” day.

However, officials in both places later said the bans had been discarded or ignored for being unpopular.

Earlier this week, there were unconfirmed media reports that Valentine’s Day gifts had been banned in the capital Islamabad – although this was subsequently denied by the government.

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Two soldiers and four gunmen have been killed in an overnight attack on Indian air force base Pathankot near Pakistani border, officials say.

Operations at the base are continuing, with some reports saying gunmen are holed up in the base.

The incident came days after the Indian and Pakistani leaders Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Lahore to launch a surprise peace initiative.

The whole of India’s Punjab state has been placed on alert.

The Pathankot base is on the main highway leading to Indian-administered Kashmir.

The gunmen wore Indian military uniforms and drove a hijacked car when they launched the attack at 03:30 local time.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

They entered living quarters at the base, but were contained there and so were unable to cause any damage to military hardware, said air force spokeswoman Rochelle D’Silva.

On January 2, fresh gunfire was heard and a helicopter seen firing at an area inside the base.

It is not yet clear who the attackers were but suspicion is already falling on Kashmiri militant groups based in Pakistan.

Some Indian security officials suggested the Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed was to blame.

India says the group is backed by Pakistan, but Islamabad denies this.

Pathankot air force base is about 270 miles north of the Indian capital, Delhi and is on the road linking Indian-administered Kashmir with the rest of the country.

Indian-administered Kashmir has seen a long-running insurgency against rule from Delhi, and Kashmir has been a flashpoint in relations between Pakistan and India for nearly 70 years since independence.

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Dozens of people are thought to be trapped in rubble after a factory collapsed in Lahore, Pakistan killing at least 17 people.

The factory, which was under construction, has collapsed on November 4.

A major rescue operation is under way, cranes and bulldozers are being used and the army is assisting in the rescue efforts.

The cause of the collapse is still unknown. Building safety levels are often below standard in Pakistan.Lahore factory collapse 2015

Two floors of the factory, in the Sundar Industrial Estate on the outskirts of the city, were operational, while a third was being built.

About 200 laborers are thought to have been in the building at the time of the incident, according to Jam Sajjad Hussain, a spokesman for the rescue services.

Other estimates in the Pakistani media have put the figure closer to 150 people.

Until now, 98 people had been pulled out alive and many were taken to hospital.

According to the rescue services, it was difficult to know exactly how many people were still trapped because the owner and administrative employees were among those inside the building.

The army has said that it is deploying a team of engineers and experts to take part in the rescue.

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Cricket legend Wasim Akram’s car has been fired at Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi, police say.

The shooting took place near the National Stadium in Karachi’s Karsaz area on August 5, reports said. The former Pakistan cricket captain was not hurt in the attack.

Police said the incident appeared to be a case of road rage.

Gun violence is not uncommon in Karachi, with much of it linked to militant groups.Wasim Akram car attacked

Wasim Akram told the Express News channel: “A car hit mine, I stopped him and then his guy stepped out and fired at my car.”

Police say a hunt is on to arrest the owners of the other car.

Wasim Akram, who retired in 2003, is massively popular in Pakistan.

The great left-arm paceman took 502 one-day wickets and claimed 414 Test victims in a 19-year international career.

He is currently taking part in a training camp in Karachi, coaching young bowlers from across the country.

Many in Pakistan, including politician and former cricketer Imran Khan, were quick to condemn the attack and express relief that Wasim Akram was unhurt.

The death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar – reported by the Afghan government on July 29 – was confirmed by the Taliban on July 30.

Meanwhile, the group has appointed a successor to Mullah Omar, who led the movement for some 20 years.

Mullah Omar’s deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, will replace him, sources close to the Taliban leadership said.

Correspondents say the move is likely to divide the militants, and that many senior figures opposed the appointment.

Pakistan says peace talks it was due to hold between the Afghan government and the Taliban on July 31 have been postponed.

The Foreign Ministry said this was at the Taliban’s request due to uncertainty over Mullah Omar’s death.Mullah Omar death confirmed by Taliban

The Taliban leader died two years ago in a Karachi hospital according to Afghanistan, but Pakistan has always denied that he was in the country.

A Taliban statement said Mullah Omar’s family had confirmed his death, but it did not say where or when it had happened. It said he had died of a “sickness”.

The group appointed Siraj Haqqani, a key leader in another major Afghan military group, the Haqqani network, as Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s deputy, sources said.

Mullah Akhtar Mansour becomes only the second person to lead the Taliban after Mullah Omar, who founded the group during Afghanistan’s civil war in the early 1990s.

His alliance with al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden prompted the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Mullah Omar had been in hiding ever since, and although was not thought to have significant day-to-day involvement in the group remained a key figurehead.

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On July 29, Afghanistan’s secret services have confirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has been dead for two or three years in a Pakistani hospital, although this has not been confirmed by the Taliban.

Mullah Omar was a reclusive figure even before his Taliban government was driven from power in late 2001 and he was forced into hiding – very few images of him exist.

There have been several reports in the past that Mullah Omar had died.

A statement purporting to be from Mullah Omar was released in July backing peace talks with the Afghan government. The last audio message thought to be from him appeared in 2006 but even this was leaked and not meant for public consumption.

In April 2015, the Taliban published a biography of Mullah Omar, saying he was alive and still supreme leader of the movement, as he had been since 1996.

Taliban say Mullah Omar was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in Kandahar province.

He fought in resistance against Soviet occupation in 1980s, suffering a shrapnel injury to his right eye.Mullah Omar biography

He also forged close ties to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Mullah Omar became “supreme leader” of Taliban movement in 1996.

US-led forces overthrew his government in 2001; US state department has a $10 million bounty on him.

The biography says he does not own a home and has no foreign bank account, and saying he “has a special sense of humor”

The Afghan Taliban have published a surprise biography of the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, to mark his 19th year as their supreme leader.

The 5,000-word biography on their main website clarifies disputed facts about his birth and upbringing.

It lists his favorite weapon – the RPG 7 – and says he leads a simple life and has a “special” sense of humor.

It says Mullah Omar, whose whereabouts were unknown, “remains in touch” with day-to-day Afghan and world events.

The US state department has a $10 million bounty on Mullah Omar, who has not been seen since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

It was Mullah Omar’s backing for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden that sparked the campaign.

It is unclear why the Taliban have chosen the 19th anniversary of his supreme leadership to publish the biography but some analysts say it may be an attempt to counter the growing influence of Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Commentators and Taliban watchers have been unable to agree on many facts about Mullah Omar, including his birth and heritage.

The biography says he was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in the Khakrez district of Kandahar province, in the south of the country.

It refers to the supreme leader as Mullah Mohammad Umar “Mujahid” and says he is from the Tomzi clan of the Hotak tribe.

It says his father was Moulavi Ghulam Nabi, a “respected erudite and social figure” who died five years after Mohammed Omar’s birth. The family moved to Uruzgan province.

The biography says Mullah Omar abandoned his studies in a madrassa school after the Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan and became a jihadist “to discharge his religious obligation”.

It lists his military feats fighting the Russians between 1983 and 1991, saying he was wounded four times and lost his right eye.

In 1994, Mullah Omar took over leading the Islamic mujahideen to tackle the “factional fighting” among warlords that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1992.

Then in 1996 he was conferred the title “ameer-ul-momineen” (head of the pious believers), the biography says, becoming supreme leader.

After taking Kabul and establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the biography tells of the “arrogant infidel powers of the world” who “could not tolerate Sharia law” and launched a joint military invasion.

In a section on his “charismatic personality”, the biography says Mullah Omar is tranquil and does not lose either temper or courage, does not own a home and has no foreign bank account and is affable, has a special sense of humor and never considers himself superior to his colleagues.

In a section entitled His daily activities in the present circumstances, the biography says: “In the present crucial conditions and regularly being tracked by the enemy, no major change and disruption has been observed in the routine works of [Mullah Omar].”

It says he “keenly follows and inspects the jihadi activities against the brutal infidel foreign invaders” adding: “He remains in touch with the day-to-day happenings of his country as well as the outside world.”

According to Afghanistan’s security services, Taliban supreme commander and spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid died two years ago in Pakistan.

It appears Mullah Omar had died of health problems at a hospital in Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s government says information on his death is “credible”.

The latest reports of Mullah Omar’s death are being taken more seriously than previous such reports. The Taliban is expected to issue a statement soon.

A statement from the office of Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said that it believed, “based on credible information”, that Mullah Omar died in April 2013 in Pakistan.

The Afghan government, elected last year, has embarked on a peace process with the Taliban.Mullah Omar dead in Pakistan

In its statement, the government called on “all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process”.

A security official in Pakistan, the country hosting the talks, told AP that the claims of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death were mere “speculation”, designed to destabilize the negotiations.

Pakistan’s government and security services have not formally commented on the claims so far. They have always denied that Mullah Omar was in their country.

Mullah Omar led the Taliban to victory over rival Afghan militias in the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

His alliance with al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden prompted the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Mullah Omar has since been in hiding, with a $10 million US state department bounty on his head.

Over the years, the Taliban have released several messages purported to be from the fugitive leader.

The latest of these statements, from mid-July, expressed support for the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

However, the message was in the form of a text published on a Taliban website, rather than an audio or video recording – fuelling rumors that the leader was dead or incapacitated.

The failure to prove that Mullah Omar was alive was a major factor behind the defection of several senior Taliban commanders to the so-called Islamic State group.

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The leader of banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Pakistan, Malik Ishaq, has been shot dead, police say.

Malik Ishaq, who had been detained last week, was in a prison convoy in Punjab province when supporters opened fire in an attempt to free him, said police.

They said Ishaq was killed in a gun fight along with his two sons and 11 militants in Muzaffargarh district.Malik Ishaq killed in Pakistan

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been behind some of the most violent attacks on Shia Muslims in recent years.

Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada confirmed the news to AFP news agency, while a doctor at Muzaffargarh District Hospital said 14 bodies had been received there.

Six police officers were also reported injured but correspondents say the details are unclear, and they have not been seen by the media.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was banned in Pakistan in 2001 and designated a terrorist group by the US in 2003.

The group is accused of killing hundreds of Shia Muslims in Pakistan.

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US NGO Save the Children has been ordered to leave Pakistan, with an official accusing the charity of “anti-Pakistan” activities.

Police have sealed off the charity’s offices in Islamabad and foreign staff given 15 days to leave the country.

Save the Children said it “strongly objected” to the action.

Pakistan has previously linked Save the Children to the fake vaccination program used by the CIA to track down Osama bin Laden.

Save the Children has always denied being involved with the CIA or Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who carried out the program.

The NGO has no foreign staff in Pakistan as they were forced to leave after the accusations emerged in 2012.

Save the Children now has 1,200 Pakistani staff working on projects in health, education and food, the charity said.Save the Children ordered to leave Pakistan

The charity, which has operations all over the world, has worked in Pakistan for more than 30 years.

The Pakistani government has not given a formal announcement explaining the decision.

However, one official told the AFP news agency: “Their activities were being monitored since a long time. They were doing something which was against Pakistan’s interest.”

A police official said that Save the Children’s phone calls and offices had been placed under surveillance. Speaking to the Reuters news agency, he added that the charity’s activities were “very suspicious”.

Condemning the move, Save the Children said it was “raising our serious concerns at the highest levels”, adding that its workers were all Pakistani nationals.

A Save the Children official told Reuters that the Pakistan government had been stopping aid shipments entering the country, “blocking aid to millions of children and their families”.

It comes after the Pakistani government announced it was tightening the rules for NGOs, revoking several of their licenses.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Refugee Council has ceased all operations in Pakistan as its license has not yet been renewed.

According to new reports, 8 of the 10 men who attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai in 2012 were acquitted in Pakistan.

In April 2015, officials in Pakistan said that 10 Taliban fighters had been found guilty and received 25-year jail terms.

However, only two of the men who stood trial were convicted, BBC reported.

The secrecy surrounding the trial, which was held behind closed doors, raised suspicions over its validity.

The Pakistani court claims that the two men convicted were those who shot Malala Yousafzai in 2012.

It was previously thought that both the gunmen and the man who ordered the attack had fled to Afghanistan.

Muneer Ahmed, a spokesman for the Pakistani High Commission in London, said on June 5 that the eight men were acquitted because of a lack of evidence.Malala Yousafzai attacker acquitted

Saleem Marwat, the district police chief in Swat, Pakistan, separately confirmed that only two men had been convicted.

Muneer Ahmed claimed that the original court judgment made it clear only two men had been convicted and blamed the confusion on misreporting.

Sayed Naeem, a public prosecutor in Swat, told the Associated Press news agency after the trial: “Each militant got 25 years in jail. It is life in prison for the 10 militants who were tried by an anti-terrorist court.”

In Pakistan, a life sentence is 25 years.

The acquittals emerged after reporters from the Daily Mirror attempted to locate the 10 convicted men in prisons in Pakistan.

The whereabouts of the eight acquitted men is not known.

The trial was held at a military facility rather than a court and was shrouded in secrecy, BBC reported. Anti-terrorism trials in Pakistan are not open to the public.

Pakistani authorities did not make the judgment available at any stage, nor did they correct the reports over the past two months that 10 men had been convicted.

The announcement of the convictions in April took many by surprise. No journalists had been made aware that the trial was taking place.

The Pakistani authorities did not say when and where the men had been arrested or how they were linked to the attack, or explain the charges against them.

Malala Yousafzai, who is now 17, was targeted by Taliban gunmen while she was travelling home from school in the town of Mingora.

The gunmen boarded a bus and asked for her by name before shooting her in the head.

She was targeted after campaigning for education rights for girls. She also wrote an anonymous blog for the BBC’s Urdu service, describing life under the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai was treated for her injuries in the UK and currently lives in Birmingham with her family. They are unable to return to Pakistan because of death threats from the Taliban.

Gunmen attacked a bus carrying Ismaili Shia Muslims in the Pakistani city of Karachi, killing at least 43 and injuring other 20, police say.

According to Karachi police, six gunmen on motorcycles, appearing to be from a banned extremist group, stopped the bus and fired indiscriminately.

The bus carrying about 60 was going to an Ismaili Shia place of worship.

Shia minority are the target of frequent sectarian attacks from Sunni militant groups.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

No group has yet said it carried out the attack.

Provincial police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali said the attack appeared to be the work of the same group involved in recent drive-by shootings of senior police officials in Karachi.

Ghulam Haider Jamali said the bus was on its way to an Ismaili Shia Muslim place of worship when gunmen boarded it in the Safoora Goth area of Karachi and fired at those on board.

The attackers are said to have escaped easily.

The Taliban and other Sunni Muslim extremist groups have targeted Shia Muslims in Pakistan in the past.

In the last few months, several mosques belonging to religious minorities have been bombed.

Pakistan is about 20% Shia and 70% Sunni. Ismaili Shias, in common with other Shia Muslims revere Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

Pakistani human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud has been killed in a drive-by shooting in Karachi after hosting a talk on allegations of torture in the province of Balochistan.

Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead as she drove home with her mother, who was also attacked.

She had been the subject of death threats before.

Tributes were paid to her on social media as soon as news of her death emerged.

Sabeen Mahmud was a director of the charity The Second Floor, also known as T2F.

T2F regularly holds seminars on human rights issues. It houses a cafe and book shop where Karachi’s liberal activists and students can meet.

The seminar on torture in Balochistan was held at T2F, having been cancelled by university authorities in Lahore, where it had been due to take place in the last few weeks.

Photo Flickr

Photo Flickr

Taliban militants, Baloch separatists and other groups fight in Balochistan, which borders Iran.

Shortly after leaving the event, Sabeen Mahmud and her mother were shot.

According to Dawn newspaper, Sabeen Mahmud died on her way to hospital, and that she had been shot five times.

The newspaper reported that Sabeen Mahmud’s mother is in a critical condition in hospital.

No group has yet said it carried out the attack, though Sabeen Mahmud is believed to have been the subject of threats by the Pakistani Taliban in the past.

Sabeen Mahmud set up T2F having already established a charity, PeaceNiche, in Karachi.

She said she “maxed out seven credit cards” to keep the centre going.

Sabeen Mahmud also helped promote the importance of learning computer skills among Pakistani youth, and hosted hundreds of events at T2F.

The White House has admitted that two hostages held by al-Qaeda were accidentally killed by a US counterterrorism operation in January.

American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto were killed in the raid in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

President Barack Obama described it as a painful loss he profoundly regretted.

Two other Americans thought to be al-Qaeda members were also killed, one of them in the same raid.

Al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Farouq was killed in that operation and Adam Gadahn, once regarded as a spokesman for the militant group, was killed in a separate raid, the White House said.Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto

Unnamed officials told Associated Press the attack that killed the hostages was a CIA drone strike.

Barack Obama, speaking at the White House about the operation that killed the hostages, said the US had launched the raid in the belief the target was an al-Qaeda compound with no civilians present.

As commander-in-chief, the president said, he took “full responsibility” for the operation.

The White House said compensation would be paid to the families of the hostages.

Warren Weinstein’s wife Elaine said in a statement the family was “devastated”.

“Those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility,” she added.

Elaine Weinstein thanked several members of the US congress and unnamed officials from the FBI, but said the assistance received from “other elements of the US government was inconsistent and disappointing”.

She also criticized the Pakistani government and military who, she said, treated her husband’s captivity “as more of an annoyance than a priority”.

Barack Obama said the operation was in compliance with the White House’s counterterrorism protocols.

Warren Weinstein, 73, was abducted in Lahore in 2011, where he was working as an aid worker. Giovanni Lo Porto disappeared from Multan, Pakistan in January 2012. Both men were aid workers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to announce an investment of $46 billion in Pakistan.

The focus of the spending is on building a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a network of roads, railway and pipelines between the two.

They will run some 1,865 miles from Gwadar in Pakistan to China’s western Xinjiang region.

The projects will give China direct access to the Indian Ocean and beyond.

This marks a major advance in China’s plans to boost its economic influence in Central and South Asia, correspondents say, and far exceeds US spending in Pakistan.China highway to Pakistan

“Pakistan, for China, is now of pivotal importance. This has to succeed and be seen to succeed,” Reuters quoted Mushahid Hussain Sayed, chairman of the Pakistani parliament’s defense committee, as saying.

Pakistan, for its part, hopes the investment will boost its struggling economy and help end chronic power shortages.

Leaders are also expected to discuss co-operation on security.

President Xi Jinping will spend two days in Pakistan holding talks with President Mamnoon Hussain, PM Nawaz Sharif and other ministers. He will address parliament on April 21.

Deals worth some $28 billion are ready to be signed during the visit, with the rest to follow.

Under the CPEC plan, China’s government and banks will lend to Chinese companies, so they can invest in projects as commercial ventures.

A network of roads, railways and energy developments will eventually stretch some 1,865 miles.

Some $15.5 billion worth of coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects will come online by 2017 and add 10,400 megawatts of energy to Pakistan’s national grid, according to officials.

A $44 million optical fiber cable between the two countries is also due to be built.

Pakistan, meanwhile, hopes the investment will enable it to transform itself into a regional economic hub.

Ahsan Iqbal, the Pakistani minister overseeing the plan, told the AFP news agency that these were “very substantial and tangible projects which will have a significant transformative effect on Pakistan’s economy”.

Xi Jinping is also expected to discuss security issues with PM Nawaz Sharif, including China’s concerns that Muslim separatists from Xinjiang are linking up with Pakistani militants.

Mumbai attack suspect Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi has been released on bail from a Pakistani jail, officials say.

Jail officials in Rawalpindi said Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was released on April 10.

India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh has called the release “unfortunate and disappointing”, India media reports say.Mumbai attack suspect Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi released from Pakistani jail

Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who is the suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, had been granted bail in December, but was kept in detention under public order legislation.

He is one of seven men facing trial over the attacks, which left 165 people dead and damaged peace efforts between the two countries.

The violence was blamed on militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group (LeT) which Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was accused of heading.

Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was arrested by Pakistan on December 7, 2008, four days after he was named by Indian officials as one of the major suspects.

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In some parts of the world like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia, celebrating Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates or a glass of wine could result in severe punishment.

While Valentine’s Day is celebrated by many Indonesians, officials and Muslim clerics are less happy about the holiday.

In recent years there have been protests from conservative Indonesians, saying Valentine’s Day is un-Islamic.

They argue it promotes casual s** and the drinking of alcohol.

India

A number of political parties in India have criticized Valentine’s Day, arguing it promotes Western values and is unwelcome in India.

India used to be part of the British Empire until it declared independence on August 15, 1947.

In 2015, the Indian Hindu nationalist party Mahasabha said that they would encourage couples spotted out together on Valentine’s Day to get married, and will actually have a religious leader on standby to perform marriages.

Other groups have said that celebrating romance would encourage teenage pregnancy and instead pushed for Indians to ditch the idea of romance between boys and girls and replace Valentine’s Day with a celebration of the love between parents and children, a “Parent’s Worship Day”.

The idea began on religious leader Asaram Bapu’s website.

Indonesia

The Asian country has the world’s largest Muslim population, but is a secular nation, meaning that the government says it is neutral and neither supports nor disagrees with religion.

However, in the province of Aceh, the only place with Islamic rule, celebrations are banned as is the sale of gifts.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Iran

While giving chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day is increasingly popular in Iran, in the past authorities have sought to crack down on celebrations, calling the day a “decedent Western custom”.

Despite this restaurants in Tehran reported being fully booked last year and many shops could be seen selling teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

This was in spite of being threatened with prosecution if they sold traditional Valentine’s Day gifts.

According to the Economist, shops simply used lookouts to tell them if inspectors were coming on a Valentine’s Day patrol.

Malaysia

Last year, 80 Muslims were arrested by the Islamic morality police for celebrating Valentine’s Day.

They think Valentine’s Day encourages immoral activities.

Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms.

The anti-Valentine’s Day campaign by the country’s Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa (religious ruling) issued in 2005.

However, many Malaysians still celebrate the day and other faiths are not affected by the Valentine’s Day boycott in the country.

Additionally not all Malaysian Muslims agreed with the campaign, with some saying Valentine’s Day is harmless.

Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of the 28 million-population.

Pakistan

In 2014, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day.

Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.

Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire.

Three students were injured and stones were thrown at police.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, Valentine’s Day is banned by the kingdom’s religious police.

Women and men sit separately in restaurants and public displays of affection are taboo.

However, some shops continue to sell red roses and other traditional Valentine’s presents.

One shop owner described how Valentine’s Day orders are placed over the telephone to avoid detection and flowers are hidden in the back of the store.

Last August, the decision to sentence five Saudis to a total of 39 years in prison, as well as 4,500 lashes between them, was upheld.

The men had been found dancing with six women they were unrelated to on Valentine’s Day. Alcohol and red roses were also seized.

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Clashes between Pakistani police and crowds protesting over an image of the Prophet Muhammad published in Charlie Hebdo have erupted near the French consulate in Karachi.

The authorities used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstration.

The protest was part of a nationwide rally called by Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamist party.

Charlie Hebdo featured a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad this week, a week after two gunmen carried out a massacre at its offices.

Twelve people were killed in the Paris attack, carried out by two French Muslims angry over earlier depictions of Muhammad in the magazine.

On January 15, Pakistani politicians passed a motion condemning Charlie Hebdo for publishing the latest cartoon.Charlie Hebdo protests in Pakistan

Religious leaders openly called for journalists at the magazine to be hanged, and several religious groups called for protests after Friday prayers.

In Karachi, at least three people were injured during the clashes between police and about 200 protesters, who were mostly student activists from Jamaat-e-Islami.

Three people were reportedly hurt in the clashes, though it was not clear how they sustained their injuries.

One of the injured has since been confirmed as Asif Hassan, a photographer for the news agency AFP.

He was shot in the chest but doctors say he is out of danger following surgery.

Pakistan has denied firing bullets at the protesters, claiming the police only fired shots into the air.

The protesters had tried to get inside the French consulate.

Protest leaders said they wanted to hand a written complaint to consulate officials, but were stopped by police near the main entrance.

Witnesses say the police used batons, water cannon, tear gas and shooting in the air to disperse the protesters.

The area is now quiet, and protesters have been forced away from the consulate.

Pakistan also erupted in protests in 2006 over publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoon images of Muhammad.

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A Taliban assault on an army-run school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar left at least 23 people dead and 40 others injured, officials say.

Five or six Talibans wearing security uniforms entered the school, officials said. Gunfire and explosions were heard as security forces surrounded the area.

The army says most of the school’s 500 students have been evacuated. It is not clear how many are being held hostage.

A Taliban spokesman says the assault is in response to army operations.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters are thought to have died in a recent military offensive in North Waziristan and the nearby Khyber area.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

A school worker and a student interviewed by the local Geo TV station said the attackers had entered the Army Public School’s auditorium, where a military team was conducting first-aid training for students.

Ambulances have been carrying the injured to a nearby hospital. A helicopter is also in the area.

Mudassir Awan, a worker at the school, said he saw six or seven attackers.

“As soon as the firing started, we ran to our classrooms,” he said.

“They were entering every class and they were beating the children.”

The dead are said to include teachers, as well as a paramilitary soldier.

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Top al-Qaeda commander Adnan el Shukrijumah, who was accused of planning to bomb trains in New York and London, has been killed in Pakistan, the country’s military says.

Adnan el Shukrijumah was killed in a raid in north-western Pakistan, near the Afghan border, the military said.

The FBI describes him as al-Qaeda’s global operations chief, a post once held by the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Adnan el Shukrijumah was born in Saudi Arabia and lived for several years in the US.

He was named in a US federal indictment as a conspirator in the case against three men accused of plotting suicide bomb attacks on New York’s subway system in 2009.

Adnan el Shukrijumah is also suspected of having played a role in plotting al-Qaeda attacks in Panama, Norway and the UK.

Photo FBI

Photo FBI

Pakistan’s military said two other militants were killed in the raid on December 6. One soldier was also reportedly killed, and another was hurt.

A military statement said the “intelligence-borne operation” took place in the Shinwarsak region of South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan.

The region is a base for the Pakistani Taliban and its allies.

Pakistan’s military launched an offensive in June against militants in neighboring North Waziristan.

Adnan el Shukrijumah is alleged to have been in charge of planning al-Qaeda attacks outside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A Saudi national, he spent more than 15 years in the US, moving there when his father took up a post at a Brooklyn mosque. The family later moved to Florida.

In the late 1990s, Adnan el Shukrijumah is thought to have left for militant training camps in Afghanistan.

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Qari Hashim, one of the suspects in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, has been set free by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan.

Qari Hashim was detained in 2005 and held in jail in Hyderabad, a southern city in Pakistan, during his trial.

The court acquitted Qari Hashim because of a lack of evidence, his lawyer said.

American journalist Daniel Pearl went missing in Karachi in January 2002

American journalist Daniel Pearl went missing in Karachi in January 2002

Daniel Pearl went missing in Karachi in January 2002. A month later authorities said he had been killed after receiving video footage of his beheading.

In May 2002, a decapitated body was found in a shallow grave.

DNA test proved it was Daniel Pearl, who was South Asia bureau chief at the Wall Street Journal.

Omar Sheik, the alleged mastermind of the murder, was sentenced to death in 2002. Three other men were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Polio cases in Pakistan have hit the highest number in 14 years, with health officials blaming the rise on attacks on immunization teams.

The number of new cases so far in 2014 is 202, already exceeding the previous the high of 199 cases in 2001.

Most of the infections are in the north-western tribal region where militants have targeted health teams.

Militants there accuse doctors of being spies and say the vaccinations are part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.

Polio cases in Pakistan have hit the highest number in 14 years, with health officials blaming the rise on attacks on immunization teams

Polio cases in Pakistan have hit the highest number in 14 years, with health officials blaming the rise on attacks on immunization teams

Suspicions over the programs worsened after the US was accused of using a fake vaccination program during its tracking of al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

Since December 2012, about 60 people, including health workers and police providing security to medical teams, have been killed by Taliban militants targeting polio teams.

Pakistan has failed to curb the disease despite massive investment on immunization programs by the international community.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) imposed travel restrictions on the country meaning all Pakistanis must now carry proof of vaccination before travelling abroad.

Pakistan is one of three countries where polio is endemic – the other two being Afghanistan and Nigeria.

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Imran Khan’s opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), says it has decided to resign all its seats in Pakistan’s national assembly.

A senior member of party said they were trying to force PM Nawaz Sharif to step down.

The PTI party has 34 of the national assembly’s 342 seats, making it the second biggest opposition group.

Imran Khan has called for the prime ministers to step down, alleging vote rigging in the 2013 election that he won by a landslide.

Shah Mehmud Qureshi, a senior PTI leader, said the party would also withdraw from three out of four provincial assemblies in Pakistan.

The fourth province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is under PTI control and officials there will not resign, he said.

The members of parliament’s resignations must be submitted to the national assembly speaker but correspondents said this would not happen on Monday as parliament had adjourned for the day.

Imran Khan has called for Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif to step down, alleging vote rigging in the 2013 election that he won by a landslide

Imran Khan has called for Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif to step down, alleging vote rigging in the 2013 election that he won by a landslide (photo Wikipedia)

Imran Khan, a former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, has been demonstrating along with thousands of his supporters in the capital Islamabad since Friday to demand fresh elections.

His rally took place at the same time as a similar demonstration by anti-government cleric Tahirul Qadri, who told crowds that the protests must continue until they bring a “peaceful revolution”.

Nawaz Sharif’s victory was the first democratic transfer of power in Pakistan, which has a long history of coups.

Critics say Tahirul Qadri has close ties to Pakistan’s armed forces.

Supporters of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are angry about Pakistan’s poorly performing economy, growing militancy, and the government’s failure to deliver services such as a steady electricity supply.

However, other opposition figures have criticized the demonstrations and Imran Khan’s call for people to stop paying tax bills in protest at the government.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest opposition party, said such “unconstitutional means” would not help the cause.

“Democracy will not be served by calls for civil disobedience nor by a stubborn refusal by any side to engage in a meaningful dialogue on political issues,” Asif ALi Zardari said in a statement.

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Pakistan’s army has launched a ground offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan.

According to a statement issued by the Pakistani army, operations had begun around Miranshah, the main town in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

The move follows air strikes which the army says have killed 370 militants. There is no confirmation of the figure.

North Waziristan has long been a sanctuary for militants. Correspondents say many are thought to have left the area before the offensive began.

Pakistan’s army has launched a ground offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan

Pakistan’s army has launched a ground offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan (photo AFP)

The assault comes three weeks after militants attacked Pakistan’s largest airport in Karachi, leaving more than 30 people dead.

For the past two weeks, Pakistani forces have been carrying out air strikes against what it says are militant hideouts in North Waziristan.

Among their targets, they say, have been Uzbek militants who claimed responsibility for the Karachi attack and their Pakistani Taliban (TTP) allies.

Monday’s army statement said troops were now conducting a door-to-door search in Miranshah.

“Troops have recovered underground tunnels and IED [improvised explosive device] preparation factories,” the statement said.

The town has been one of the main TTP bases during recent years when militants who had at times been tolerated by the military killed thousands of people in a bombing campaign across Pakistan.

In public statements, Pakistani commanders have said they will not discriminate between so-called good and bad Taliban.

However, there are widespread reports from within North Waziristan that many militants were allowed to escape before the operations began.

Nearly half a million people have left North Waziristan since the offensive was announced following the Karachi airport attack.

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Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf’s request to leave the country has been backed by the Sindh High Court.

The Sindh High Court removed Pervez Musharraf’s name from an exit control list on Thursday. The former leader is currently barred from leaving Pakistan.

The government has 15 days to appeal before the order comes into effect.

Pervez Musharraf is currently on trial for treason. He denies the charges and has described the accusations as politically motivated.

Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf is currently on trial for treason

Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf is currently on trial for treason (photo Wikipedia)

Pakistan’s military is watching the trial of the former general closely – correspondents say they are concerned over the precedent the trial could set in a country with a history of military rule.

On Thursday, Pervez Musharraf’s lawyer Farogh Naseem said: “The court has allowed our appeal and ordered to strike down Musharraf’s name from the Exit Control List. The order will be executed after 15 days.”

Pervez Musharraf is currently under house arrest. He was admitted to hospital for chest pain in January.

In April, the Interior Ministry turned down Pervez Misharraf’s request to end a travel ban preventing him from leaving the country, to visit his sick mother in Dubai.

Many in Pakistan believe he could flee the country and avoid facing charges, if allowed to travel.

Pervez Musharraf was president from 2001 to 2008. He left the country after losing the 2008 elections, facing possible impeachment.

He dramatically returned to the country in March 2013 to compete in elections, but was barred from standing and now faces a series of court cases.

In addition to five charges of treason, Pervez Musharraf faces criminal charges in connection with the killings of two politicians, and putting dozens of senior judges under house arrest in 2007.

Pervez Musharraf is also on bail in connection with the killing of a cleric in the 2007 Red Mosque siege in Islamabad.