With smog season looming, Pakistan shuts polluting brick kilns

In this file photo, Pakistani youths play cricket amid heavy smog in Lahore on Nov. 12, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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With smog season looming, Pakistan shuts polluting brick kilns

ISLAMABAD: To combat worsening smog, Pakistan’s government has ordered all traditional brick kilns closed for 70 days starting Saturday, as it promotes new cleaner kilns that could cut pollution up to 70 percent.
But the measure has produced an outcry both from kiln owners, who want incentives to make the switch, and from kiln workers who fear losing income.
“How I will provide food to my three children during closure of the kilns?” asked Sumaira Bibi, 35, who with her 60-year-old husband frames up 1,200 bricks a day for a kiln near Islamabad, earning about $8.
Under the government order, all traditional kilns must shut from October 20 until December 31 to cut smog that has blighted parts of Punjab province, and other areas of the country, in recent years.
Pakistan has about 19,000 such kilns, said Shoaib Khan Niazi, president of the All Pakistan Brick Kiln Association.
The government has also ordered that all kilns be converted to “zig-zag” technology, a design change that makes more efficient use of fuel, according to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency. No deadline for the switch has been set.
An internal zig-zag structure in kilns, combined with the use of an air blower, can cut the consumption of coal, slash emissions substantially and improve the quality of bricks produced, said Malik Amin Aslam, an adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on climate change issues.
Traditional kiln owners, however, are demanding a shutdown of no more than a month, and insisting on government help to make the design change.
Mehar Abdul Haq, a brick kiln owner in the Kasur district of Punjab province, said kilns should be shut for a maximum of 30 days or only on days when there is smog.
He said about 20 kilns in Punjab are in the process of being converted to zig-zag technology, with five or six now operating using it.
The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a Nepal-based non-governmental organization, has carried out two training programs on the technology for kiln owners in Pakistan, aiming to cut smog and climate-changing emissions.
But Haq said converting a conventional kiln to the new technology costs $15,000 to $20,000, a hefty investment.
“We have demanded the government either give loans on easy terms or provide interest-free loans to convert to the technology — but in vain,” he said.
EFFICIENT — BUT INCONVENIENT
Niazi, of the brick kiln owner’s association, said a 70-day closure would cause unemployment not only at brick kilns but in the coal and construction industries.
It would also drive up the cost of bricks in Pakistan, he said.
He said an average of 100 to 150 people worked at each brick kiln.
“Neither are we getting financial nor technical support from the government,” he said — though he admitted the zig-zag technology was environmentally friendly and energy efficient.
The technology uses 30 to 40 percent less energy than traditional kilns, and cuts the costs of bricks produced by up to half, Niazi said.
Naseem-ur-Rehman, a Punjab spokesman for Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency, said brick kilns were a major contributor to smog, along with vehicle emissions and burning of crop stubble.
Smog is a particular problem from late October through mid-January in Pakistan.
“We cannot end smog at all but we are trying to reduce it through steps at all levels,” Rehman said.
The new technology has benefits for kiln owners as well, he said, including cost and time savings, and a reduction in sub-standard bricks produced.
“What we are seeing is that this technology reduces carbon emissions more than 70 percent,” he said — which means those kilns using zig-zag technology will be allowed to operate during smog season.
But other kiln owners should expect that “we will keep on shutting these kilns after intervals to force them to covert to zig-zag,” he said.
Mome Saleem, an Islamabad-based environmentalist, said the closure of the kilns would help cut smog but other industries needed attention too.
“The government should formulate an inclusive strategy to combat the smog instead of just shutting the kilns,” she suggested.
Arif Jeewa, former chairman of the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABAD), said a shutdown of brick kilns would have no impact on Pakistan’s commercial construction industry because it relied instead on cement blocks.
Aslam, the Prime Minister’s adviser, said the government was moving now to try to avoid smog problems in the months to come.
“We are shutting down brick kilns and factories that emit greenhouse gases in excess,” he said.
“The closure will have an economic impact — but so does their continued and unabated operation, which has a huge environmental impact,” he said.


PM Sharif directs Pakistan’s tax authority to bring ‘wealthy’ citizens into tax net

Updated 18 July 2024
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PM Sharif directs Pakistan’s tax authority to bring ‘wealthy’ citizens into tax net

  • Sharif chairs important meeting on reforms in Pakistan’s tax agency, Federal Board of Revenue
  • Pakistani PM says FBR reforms to enhance country’s revenue, says tax refund system will be improved

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday tasked the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to increase its revenues by speeding up reforms, bringing “wealthy” people into the tax net and avoiding putting additional burden on the poor, as Islamabad seeks to enhance its revenues and avoid putting pressure on the poor. 
Pakistan last month passed a tax-heavy budget with an ambitious tax revenue target of 13 trillion rupees ($47 billion) for fiscal year 2025, a near 40 percent jump from the last fiscal year. The budget was instrumental in convincing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to enter into a $7 billion loan program with Pakistan. 
Pakistan’s opposition parties and government allies have criticized the tax-heavy budget, accusing authorities of overburdening the poor with taxes. PM Sharif’s government has vowed to carry out gradual fiscal consolidation, broaden Pakistan’s existing tax base and improve tax administration and debt sustainability while protecting the vulnerable.
The Pakistani prime minister chaired a meeting related to the FBR’s reforms and digitization in Islamabad on Thursday where he was informed that 4.9 million people who can afford taxes have been identified through modern technology. 
“The prime minister instructed to bring the wealthy and well-off people among these 4.9 million individuals to the tax net on a preferential basis and no additional burden should be put on the poor,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said. 
During the meeting, the Pakistani prime minister noted that the FBR had unearthed a fraud of Rs800 billion in tax refunds during the last four months, saying it reflected “positive results” by the authority. 
Sharif said the country’s tax refund system will be further improved, adding that reforms in the FBR can enhance the country’s revenue. 
“The Prime Minister said that the unnecessary delay in implementing several projects regarding the reforms in FBR is regrettable,” Radio Pakistan said. 
Sharif was told that the FBR’s trader-friendly mobile application has registered 150,000 retailers since April 1, 2024. He urged authorities to continue consultations with retailers to make this system more effective.


Pakistani religious party vows to continue pro-Palestine sit-in protest until demands are met

Updated 18 July 2024
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Pakistani religious party vows to continue pro-Palestine sit-in protest until demands are met

  • Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan supporters remain camped at Faizabad Interchange connecting Islamabad, Rawalpindi since last week 
  • TLP protesters demand Pakistan government officially boycott Israeli products, send aid to Gaza and declare Israeli PM a “terrorist”

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani religious party on Thursday vowed to continue its large pro-Palestine sit-in protest at a key junction connecting the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi until its demands are not met, as residents suffer traffic disruption. 
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), known for its hard-line stance on blasphemy laws, has previously staged sit-ins at the Faizabad Interchange. The presence of large numbers of protesters in the area significantly disrupts traffic, forcing drivers to take longer, alternative routes between the two cities.
The TLP workers, led by their young leader Saad Rizvi, took out a protest rally from Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi to Faizabad last Saturday before deciding to set up a protest camp at the interchange.
The TLP has asked the government to officially boycott Israeli products and send food and medical aid to Palestinians suffering Israel’s relentless military campaign in Gaza. They have also called on Pakistan’s government to declare Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “terrorist.”
“We are engaged with the government regarding our demands for the people of Palestine but no agreement has been reached yet,” Sajjad Saifi, a member of the TLP’s Shoura or consultative council, told Arab News over the phone.
“We will continue our dharna [sit-in] till all three of our demands are fully met.”
Saifi said TLP chief Rizvi was leading the party’s protest, adding that over 50,000 of their supporters were camped at the Faizabad Interchange. 
“If the government accepts our demands, it will earn a huge respect in the Muslim world,” he said.
Israel’s war on Gaza has so far claimed at least 39,000 lives, many of them women and children. The casualties have sparked anger and protests worldwide, including in Pakistan, where the country’s civil society and political factions have consistently led pro-Palestine rallies. 
When asked why the party decided to stage a sit-in protest nine months into the war, Saifi said the TLP had mobilized the public since October last year through rallies across Pakistan. 
 “Tens of thousands of our supporters have been waiting for the leadership’s call to join the dharna in Islamabad,” he said. 
“We are doing it for a cause, for the people of Palestine. We don’t have any political agenda to achieve through this dharna.”
The large number of protesters at the Faizabad Interchange have effectively blocked the Islamabad Expressway, causing difficulty for commuters and creating gridlocks in the area.
When asked about the protest and the inconvenience being caused to the public, Information Minister Attaullah Tara said: 
“Don’t worry, we are on it.”
‘STATE HAS SURRENDERED’
Political analysts called on the government to initiate strict action against the outfit to disperse them from the interchange. 
“Freedom of movement is a basic right of the public, therefore the government and the Supreme Court should take notice of the dharna and initiate measures to disperse the protesters,” political analyst Adnan Rehmat told Arab News. 
“If the government fails to initiate action against the TLP, it clearly means the state has surrendered before the outfit that doesn’t believe in any law and the constitution.”
Political science professor Rasul Bakhsh Rais agreed. 
“There is no rationale behind the TLP’s sit-in as Pakistan has already dispatched food and medicines to the people of Gaza,” Rais told Arab News. “It is unfortunate the government is silent over the mess and taking no steps to disperse them.”


Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed walks free after court declares her arrest ‘illegal’

Updated 18 July 2024
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Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed walks free after court declares her arrest ‘illegal’

  • Javed has been in jail since last year on charges of inciting people to violence over Khan’s brief arrest in May 2023
  • Islamabad High Court earlier this week ordered her release from prison, directed authorities not to arrest her again

ISLAMABAD: Sanam Javed, a leading activist of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party finally walked free on Thursday after an Islamabad court declared her arrest “illegal” and allowed her to relocate to her home in Punjab province, her lawyer confirmed. 
Khan’s arrest in a graft case on May 9, 2023, saw hundreds of his supporters allegedly pour into the streets across the country, ransacking military and other properties. Thousands, including Javed, were arrested in the aftermath and some were tried by military courts after the authorities promised to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice.
Javed has been in detention for over a year, facing charges in a dozen cases since the riots on May 9, 2023. 
Thursday’s decision by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) followed the earlier relief Javed received on Monday when the high court ordered her release and instructed police and other law enforcement agencies not to arrest her again.
“The IHC has declared the arrest of Javed illegal and forbade to arrest her again in any case registered till today (July 18),” her lawyer Ali Ashfaq told Arab News.
Balochistan Police this week sought Javed’s arrest in a similar case registered last year after which her father, Javed Iqbal Khan, filed an application in the IHC challenging the legality of her detention.
In his judgment, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb stated that Pakistan’s attorney-general (AGP) assured the court that “Javed shall not be arrested in any case” and that the Balochistan Police shall not press its request before Islamabad’s court for Javed’s transfer to Balochistan. 
The judgment also said Javed is at liberty to travel to her home in Punjab. However, Justice Aurangzeb warned the PTI activist that she ought to exercise utmost caution and discretion in her social media statements. 
Ashfaq said Javed was arrested in 12 different cases, 11 of which were registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Of these, seven were registered in Lahore, three in Sargodha, and one in Gujranwala.
He said the court also questioned the legality of numerous police cases based on a single allegation leveled in different locations.
“On July 15, the court ordered that she should not be removed from the jurisdiction of Islamabad and should not be arrested in any other case,” he said.
Ashfaq said the court had asked the AGP to appear in person and justify that everything that had been done was according to law.
“Today, I received a message from the Attorney General about half an hour before the court session and met him in his office, where he assured me that to resolve this issue, Javed would not be arrested anywhere in Pakistan,” Ashfaq added.
He said authorities have assured him that police cases against Javed in Islamabad and Balochistan would be quashed.
“While four police cases have been discharged, in the other eight cases she is on bail and we will face trial proceedings in the concerned courts,” he said.
‘POLITICALLY MOTIVATED CASES’
The PTI says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of its members for standing by Khan, who has been in jail since August last year. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.
Last week, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were arrested by Pakistani authorities in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, after a court accepted their appeals against a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law and ordered their immediate release.
Khan and his wife were sentenced to seven years in prison and fined in February by a court that ruled their 2018 marriage broke the law. Bushra was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat,” after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan.
The ex-premier has been in jail after being convicted in four cases since last August. Two of the cases have since been suspended and he was acquitted in a third, so the Iddat case was the only one keeping him in prison.
Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says the cases against him are “politically motivated,” aimed at keeping him from returning to power. Pakistani authorities deny this.


Pakistan’s disaster management authority launches WhatsApp channel as rains threaten floods, landslides 

Updated 18 July 2024
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Pakistan’s disaster management authority launches WhatsApp channel as rains threaten floods, landslides 

  • “Tayyar Pakistan” or Ready Pakistan will provide real-time alerts, updates and preparation tips to users, says state media
  • Pakistan’s disaster management authority has warned of flash floods, landslides due to heavy monsoon rains this month 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top disaster management authority has launched an official WhatsApp channel titled “Tayyar Pakistan” or Ready Pakistan to provide real-time alerts, updates and preparation tips for emergencies, state media reported on Thursday, as the country braces for heavy monsoon rains this month. 
The South Asian country is recognized as one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change effects. Unusually heavy rains in June 2022 triggered flash floods in many parts of the country, killing over 1,700 people, inflicting losses of around $30 billion, and affecting at least 30 million people.
Scientists and experts attributed the floods to the adverse effects of climate change. Pakistan also suffered a severe heat wave last month, which saw temperatures in some regions rise to above 50 degrees Celsius.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has warned that heavy monsoon rains are likely to trigger landslides, mudslides and flash floods in many parts of the country. 
“As part of ongoing efforts, an official WhatsApp channel ‘Tayyar Pakistan’ has been launched by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA),” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported. 
“It is dedicated to providing real-time disaster alerts, updates, and preparedness tips.”
The statement said people can stay informed about potential hazards, receive timely notifications and take proactive steps to protect themselves and their communities through the WhatsApp channel. 
Earlier this week, the NDMA issued a glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF) alert for Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the mountainous northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan.
It also launched the “Pak NDMA Disaster Alert” mobile app to ensure “effective community engagement and timely risk communication” as Pakistan braces for heavy downpours this monsoon season.
Pakistan’s prime minister this month formed a high-level government committee to deal with potential emergencies that can arise due to heavy rains.


Bodies of Pakistanis killed in Muscat mosque attack to be brought back today

Updated 18 July 2024
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Bodies of Pakistanis killed in Muscat mosque attack to be brought back today

  • Four Pakistani nationals were among six killed when gunmen opened fire at Shia Mosque in Oman this week
  • All four Pakistani nationals to be brought back to the country today via Pakistan International Airlines’ flights

KARACHI: The bodies of four Pakistani nationals killed in a mosque attack in Muscat this week will be brought back to the country today, Thursday, a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) spokesperson confirmed. 
Six people were killed when three gunmen, all brothers and of Omani nationality, opened fire on people in a Shia Muslim mosque in Muscat on Monday evening. 
The six people killed by the gunmen were four Pakistani nationals, an Indian, and a police officer responding to the attack, which militant group Daesh later claimed responsibility for. Pakistan described the assault as a “terror attack” while Oman police said the gunmen were “influenced by misguided ideas.”
“The bodies of the Pakistanis martyred in the Muscat attack will arrive in Pakistan today via PIA flights,” a spokesperson of the airline said in a statement. 
It said Sulaiman Nawaz’s body will reach Lahore via PIA flight PK 230 at 5:00 p.m. while Syed Qaiser Abbas Bukhari’s body will be brought back to the country via PIA flight PK226 from Muscat to Karachi. From there, it will be flown to Lahore by flight PK 302, the spokesperson said. 
Ghulam Abbas and Hasan Abbas’ bodies will reach Islamabad from Muscat by PIA flight PK 292 at 1:00 p.m., the spokesperson said. 
“All steps have been taken to hand over the bodies of the martyred to their relatives immediately after they return to Pakistan,” the spokesperson said. 
Daesh’s operations have indicated the group is attempting a comeback after it was crushed by a US-led coalition following its occupation of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate.
It also inspired lone-wolf attacks in the West.
Any inroads in Gulf Arab oil producers such as Oman would raise fears in Washington and the region which has long viewed militant groups as a major threat.
Dozens of people at the mosque in Oman were wounded with around 30 people treated at local hospitals, including for gunshot wounds.
Monday evening marked the beginning of Ashura, an annual period of mourning, which many Shia Muslims mark publicly, to commemorate the 7th-century death of Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 
The attack was largely unprecedented in Oman, where most of its citizens follow the Ibadi Muslim faith that shares many similarities with mainstream Sunni Islam. Oman has a small but influential Omani Shia population. 
Like other Gulf countries, there is a large and significant foreign workforce in Oman too.
Additional inputs from Reuters