No talks on Uighurs with China envoy, Pakistan minister says

Pakistani Minister for Religious Affairs met with Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing on Sep. 19, 2018. (Press Information Department)
Updated 22 September 2018

No talks on Uighurs with China envoy, Pakistan minister says

  • Met to discuss exchange program for Muslim scholars from both countries, Qadri says
  • Beijing criticized for alleged rights abuses against ethnic Muslim minority

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Noorul Haq Qadri, on Saturday denied media reports that he had voiced concerns about the Muslim Uighur community residing in China, during a meeting with Beijing’s top diplomat in Islamabad, earlier this week.

China has been widely criticized for alleged rights abuses against Muslims in the Xinjiang province, with reports saying that members of the community are detained, tortured and restricted from practicing their religion freely.

Despite international umbrage over the issue, Pakistan has so far avoided commenting on the matter due to its close proximity with China. “This [the Uighur issue] was not discussed,” Qadri told Arab News while discussing details about his interaction with Ambassador Yao Xing on Wednesday.

He added that, instead, the meeting focused on measures to institutionalize an exchange program for moderate Islamic scholars. “We will soon sign an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] on the exchange of scholars,” he said, adding that the objective of the proposed program was “to promote moderation”.

So far, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad hasn’t issued any official statement pertaining to the meeting. However, ministry spokesperson Imran Siddique – in comments made to Arab News earlier – had said that Qadri was interested in China’s curriculum for Muslim students and that the meeting also explored the possibility of development work in Pakistan’s northwestern region which was previously under the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Siddique denied reports that China was planning internment camps for Muslims, saying that the delegation of religious scholars would be able to judge if the Chinese Muslims actually faced serious challenges or not. “China’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy,” he said, sharing excerpts of Qadri’s conversation with the Chinese envoy. “Pakistan has also taken a clear stance on the economic corridor and maintained that Islamabad will not compromise on the project.”

He added that ambassador Xing was more interested in discussing the deprivations of people in Pakistan’s former tribal territories and looking for ways to address them. He talked in detail about empowering women and girls by way of providing education, medical and health facilities in the area.

Qadri’s meeting with ambassador Xing was held against the backdrop of an interview which saw Prime Minister’s Advisor on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood in attendance. Dawood, on his part, suggested that his country could suspend some of the projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for a year to “review or renegotiate agreements” under the arrangement and “get our act together”.

The talks coincided with a meeting between Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and President Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Thursday, wherein they agreed not to compromise on the security for CPEC-related projects.

Chinese officials have always denied allegations that they mistreat the Muslim minority in Xinjiang, with one Bureau of Human Rights Affairs official saying that his country was only educating Muslims to avoid spreading extremism.

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.