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Indian pilgrims overwhelmed in Pakistan

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Islamabad: Pilgrims from India who arrived in Pakistan at Katas Raj temples have called for eternal peace and warm relations between India and Pakistan.

“I am waiting for the day when citizens from both the countries living in the border areas can cross onto each other’s soil during their morning walk without any fear and barriers,” Dawn online quoted Sushma Gupta as saying in a ceremony at Katas Raj temples on Saturday.

Gupta was one of 124 Hindu pilgrims from India who arrived at Katas Raj in Katas village of Chakal district of the Punjab province on Friday under strict security.

“When we left for Pakistan, we were curious throughout the journey about how we would be received, and what Pakistan would be like. But when we reached Wagah border, we were left stunned by the love and warmth with which we were greeted,” Gupta said.

“Coming here, we found everything was same. Our language, culture, dress and our fields are all same,” Gupta said.

A cultural event was arranged at the temples on Friday night, during which Hindu artists from Sindh sang bhajans.

The recitation of the poetry of Saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was particularly well received.

Speaking at the ceremony on Saturday, Evacuee Trust Property Board chairperson Mohammad Siddiqul Farooq said the people of both the countries have always dreamt of everlasting peace and love between the two nations, which would only be possible if the governments took practical steps to attain peace.

“Although Partition caused irreversible loss to the people of both the countries, Partition is a reality and now we must accept this stark reality and move on. The best way to move forward could be that we open our hearts to each other,” he said.

Farooq said the ETPB is working to improve the facilities at Katas Raj temples. He also vowed to increase the number of pilgrims in the future.

“I am happy to tell you that last December 85 pilgrims came from India but this time, 124 people have arrived.”

Shiv Pratab Bajaj, the leader of the pilgrims’ caravan, said he would not forget the love and affection showered upon the people by the Pakistani side.

“Last December I demanded a hostel for pilgrims and this time, I am left overjoyed to see that construction is going on,” he said.

The pilgrims were also presented with gifts including dry fruits and shields.

Neelum Sharma and her husband Aditya from New Delhi were among the visiting pilgrims. They said this was their first time in the country and that they wished to visit Pakistan every year.

“When I left for Pakistan, my bedridden uncle asked me to pay homage to his motherland,” Neelam said.(IANS)

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ISIS Announces New India and Pakistan Provinces

The "Islamic State Pakistan Province," in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer

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ISIS, New India, Pakistan, Provinces
FILE- An Islamic State flag is captured in this photo illustration. VOA

The Islamic State group says it has established a “province” in Pakistan, days after the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region.

Both of the divisions formerly fell under the “Khorasan Province” or ISKP — the name the Middle East-based terrorist group uses for its regional operations launched in early 2015 from bases in the border region of Afghanistan — according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threats.

The “Islamic State Pakistan Province,” in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer this week in Mastung, and it reported shooting at a gathering of militants linked to the outlawed Pakistani Taliban militant group in Quetta.

Both the districts are located in violence-hit Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Several separatist Baluch groups and sectarian organizations also are active in the province.

ISIS, New India, Pakistan, Provinces
FILE – Rescue workers and army soldiers gather at the site of a blast at a vegetable market in Quetta, Pakistan, April 12, 2019. VOA

There was no immediate reaction available from the Pakistani government.

Islamabad maintains there is no “organized” presence of IS in the country. Pakistani military officials say an ongoing nationwide military-led “intelligence-based operation” is primarily aimed at denying space in Pakistan to extremists linked to any terrorist groups.

The group released no details about the boundaries of the territory it is now claiming. In previous Islamic State propaganda, all of Afghanistan and most of Pakistan, parts of modern Iran and Central Asia make up the so-called Khorasan Province. IS also has spoken about creating its own chapter for the Indian subcontinent.

Marketplace expolsion

IS also took responsibility for last month’s suicide blast in a marketplace in Quetta city that killed 20 people and left nearly 50 injured. The targets of the attack were members of the ethnic Hazara Shiite Muslim community.

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On Friday, IS declared in a statement via Amaq the creation of “Hind Province,” while taking responsibility for clashes with Indian forces in Amshipora in the Shopian district of Kashmir.

IS has increased attacks lately in the region, including taking credit for the group’s Easter Sunday first-ever bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.

Observers say altering its provincial structure and fragmenting the “Khorasan Province” by IS could be aimed at bolstering its credentials after losing its “caliphate” in Syria and Iran, where the terrorists at one point used to control thousands of miles of territory.

“As ISIS [one of several acronyms used for IS] seeks to build and restructure foundations of insurgencies across the globe after its losses in Iraq and Syria, it is attempting to recruit also from Pakistan, a country with an existing jihadi militant population,” tweeted Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Intelligence Group.

ISIS, New India, Pakistan, Provinces
the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region. Wikimedia Commons

The suspected rebranding of ISKP comes as the United Nations earlier this week designated the “Khorasan Province” as a global terrorist, noting the group was formed in January 2015 by former members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who pledged allegiance to Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISIS/ISIL.

The United States has already blacklisted ISKP as a foreign terrorist organization, and American troops are conducting regular airstrikes against the group’s bases in Afghanistan with the help of local forces, killing thousands of militants.

Analysts say American counterterrorism airstrikes and clashes with the Afghan Taliban have prevented ISKP from expanding its regional influence and the rebranding strategy could have stemmed from those challenges.

“Khorasan chapter has been struggling to establish a footprint in Afghanistan and the region in general, and they may be following al-Qaida’s strategy to create regional affiliates,” says Muhammad Amir Rana, who heads Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace and Studies (PIPS). (VOA)