A Pakistani military aircraft on a training flight crashed in a built-up area in the garrison city of Rawalpindi early on Tuesday killing all five crew members and 12 civilians and setting off a blaze that left a pile of smoking rubble. Rawalpindi is close to the capital Islamabad and is where the headquarters of the Pakistan army is based.
Pakistan re-opened its airspace to civil aviation on Tuesday following months of restrictions imposed after clashes with India, which forced lengthy detours that cost airlines millions of dollars. Flights between Europe and Southeast Asia were forced further south, adding as much as 450 km (280 miles) to some journeys and forcing the cancellation of some routes. Pakistan closed its airspace after an attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-controlled Kashmir led to an armed standoff between the nuclear-armed powers.
Gunmen have stormed a five-star hotel in Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar, killing at least five people, officials said. The military said four hotel employees and a Pakistan Navy soldier were killed. According to the military, all guests at the hotel, which has 114 rooms, were safely evacuated. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an ethnic Baloch separatist group fighting for independence for Balochistan province, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that four fighters were involved.
Pakistan has detained dozens of suspected militants following the attack in Indian-administered Kashmir, which sparked a crisis with India. They include the brother and another relative of Masood Azhar, the founder of the group that claimed the attack. Pakistan, which has been under international pressure to crack down on militancy, said 44 suspected militants are in “preventative detention”. Many feared the escalation of tensions could trigger a dangerous conflict.
Pakistan will release a captured Indian pilot on Friday, Pakistan’s prime minister told a joint session of parliament Thursday, in an overture towards New Delhi after soaring tensions fuelled fears of conflict between the nuclear-armed rivals. “As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” Imran Khan said, a day after Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down in a rare aerial engagement between the South Asian neighbors over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Saudi Arabia has pledged investment deals worth $20bn with Pakistan which is seeking to bolster its fragile economy. The deals include funding for an $8bn oil refinery in the city of Gwadar. It comes as part of a high-profile Asian tour by the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prime Minister Imran Khan has been seeking help from friendly countries in order to cut the size of the bailout package his country is likely to need from the International Monetary Fund, under very strict conditions.
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld its acquittal of a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, clearing the way for her to leave the country as radical Islamists seethe. Asia Bibi, a mother and illiterate farmhand of Christian faith, spent eight years on death row, until the country’s top court acquitted her last October, sparking massive protests across Pakistan. The case stems back to a sweltering day in 2009, when Bibi was ordered to fetch water, upsetting Muslim farmworkers who feared she might sip from the same vessel.
British Airways will resume flights to Pakistan ten years after a deadly terror attack at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. The airline stopped Pakistan flights after 54 people including 6 British citizens were killed in the September 2008 attack. British Airways will become the only Western airline to service Pakistan beginning on June 2, 2019.
Protests continued for a third day in Pakistan on Friday as the ultra-Islamist party blocked roads to demonstrate against the acquittal of a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy allegations. The political party claims talks with the government have been unsuccessful. Thousands of far-right protesters showed up for the demonstration.
ActionAid charity announced on Thursday that Pakistan ordered 18 international aid agencies to suspend operations and leave the country within 60 days. ActionAid’s Pakistan director said no explanation was provided for the decision. ActionAid was informed it could ‘reapply for registration’ in six months. The decision is Islamabad’s latest move targeting foreign-funded groups.