A high-level meeting chaired by Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore today reviewed progress on health sector projects.

Shahbaz Sharif directed the concerned authorities to take strict departmental action against absentees and made effective mechanism of monitoring in hospitals.

He said government is spending billions of rupees to improve healthcare facilities in the province.

The Chief Minister directed to make effective mechanism to regulate private medical colleges.

The meeting also reviewed proposal of establishment of Punjab Medical Education Board.

Source: Radio Pakistan

Reports: U.S. Eliminating Post Of Special Envoy On Afghanistan-Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. State Department is eliminating the post of the U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the move will leave Washington without anyone at the policy post that was created by the previous U.S. president, Barack Obama.

The reports quoted current and former U.S. officials who said the current acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan would vacate the post on June 23.

The decision comes as the United States prepares to deploy thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, and as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis heads a policy review board on the two countries, in a bid to bolster the fight against Taliban and Islamic State (IS) militants.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico reported that the duties of the post will be folded into the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

However, sources said that bureau currently has no political leadership.

The Afghan-Pakistan post was first held by the late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Since 2009, it has been a key position for leadership on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Blasts Kill More Than Two Dozen, Injure Scores in NW Pakistan

ISLAMABAD � Two back-to-back bombs went off Friday in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100 others.

The blasts occurred in a crowded market of Parachinar, the main town of the semi-autonomous Kurram tribal district near the Afghan border.

Sajid Turi, a member of parliament from the area, told the local media that a low-intensity blast occurred during afternoon rush hours, before a second powerful bomb exploded.

The lawmaker said he anticipated the death toll will increase. Hospital sources said more than 30 wounded people were brought in from the scene in “critical condition.

The population in the area where the deadly blasts occurred is predominantly Shi’ite Muslims.

A military statement said it has dispatched two helicopters to Parachinar to evacuate injured to hospitals in Peshawar.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the deadly blasts.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the bombings and said he hopes those responsible are brought to justice, in a statement released by his spokesman.

The U.S. State Department released a statement later Friday, saying, We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We will continue to work with the government of Pakistan and our partners across the region to combat the threat of terrorism.

The attacks on Friday happened hours after a car bombing in southwestern city of Quetta killed at least 13 people and wounded 20 others.

Senior police officers apparently were the target. At least seven personnel were among the dead.

A splinter Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, claimed responsibility for that attack.

Source: Voice of America

Blasts in Pakistan Kill Dozens, Wound More Than 100

Pakistani officials say three blasts in two major cities killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 100 on June 23 — the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.

Authorities say a suicide car bomber killed at least 13 people — including at least five police officers — and wounded 20 people in an attack near the provincial police chief’s office in the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of the Balochistan Province.

There were competing claims of responsibility for the Quetta attack from a Pakistani Taliban breakaway faction calling itself Jamat-ul-Ahrar and the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

IS militants claimed that one of its followers with a suicide belt targeted the police post. IS also released a photograph of the alleged attacker, identifying him as Abu Othman al-Khorasani.

Hours after the Quetta attack, twin bombings that were minutes apart killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 80 at a crowded market in the northwestern Shi’a-dominated city of Parachinar.

Government administrator Zahid Hussain said most of the victims were from Pakistan’s Shi’ite minority.

Parachinar is the main city in Pakistan’s Kummar tribal region, located along Afghanistan’s border.

Officials said the first explosion at Parachinar’s Tori market occurred as people were buying food for iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

The second blast occurred minutes later as rescuers were trying to aid those wounded by the first explosion.

Mohammad Amir, an official at a government-run hospital in Parachinar, said more than 20 of the wounded victims were listed in critical condition.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the Parachinar attacks, but Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for numerous similar attacks against Pakistan’s Shi’ite minority in the past.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Can Flourishing Islamic State Be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS, U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country, a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there, Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who believe that associating with or pledging allegiance to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) � previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there, Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers, the Pentagon said.

Source: Voice of America

Indian Facing Death Sentence For Spying Asks Pakistani Military For Mercy

An Indian man sentenced to death for spying in Pakistan has filed a mercy petition with Islamabad’s chief of army staff, the Pakistani military says.

Former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav “has admitted his involvement in espionage, terrorist, and subversive activities in Pakistan and expressed remorse at the resultant loss of any precious lives and extensive damage to property due to his actions,” Pakistan’s military said on June 22.

It added that Jadhav had asked for mercy on “compassionate grounds.”

In New Delhi, the Foreign Ministry said Jadhav was sentenced on “concocted charges” and voiced doubts about the existence of the petition for mercy.

Pakistan says Jadhav was arrested in March 2016 in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, which has been hit by a separatist insurgency that Islamabad accuses India of backing.

New Delhi denies Jadhav was a spy and claims he was kidnapped from Iran.

After Jadhav was sentenced to death in April, India asked the International Court of Justice to stop the execution, arguing that he was denied diplomatic assistance during his trial.

The court ordered Pakistan in May to delay Jadhav’s execution. It argued that Islamabad violated a treaty guaranteeing diplomatic assistance to foreigners accused of crimes.

Pakistani authorities say Jadhav confessed to being assigned by India’s intelligence service to organize espionage and sabotage activities in Balochistan, which Islamabad says resulted in terrorist acts that caused 1,345 deaths.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.