Government hopeful to avert opposition protest through dialogue

Women supporters of Pakistani political and Islamic party Jammat-e-Islami (JI), march during a protest in solidarity with Indian Kashmiri Muslims in Islamabad on Oct. 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2019

Government hopeful to avert opposition protest through dialogue

  • Says it’s opposition’s right to protest, but the government won’t allow anyone to create chaos
  • Analysts maintain the JUI-F chief has acquired political relevance by mounting pressure on the government

ISLAMABAD: The government has started contacting opposition parties to dissuade them from launching a mass protest in the federal capital, said defense minister Pervez Khattak on Thursday.
“We have started negotiating with all opposition parties and hopefully [the effort] will yield positive results in the next couple of days,” he said in an informal chat with journalists in Islamabad.
The prime minister on Wednesday announced to form a committee led by Khattak to hold talks with the opposition factions, especially the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) that has announced to start its “Azadi March” on October 27 and enter the federal capital on October 31 to dislodge the government.
JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been struggling to start an agitation against the government since the general elections in July last year wherein his party only managed to clinch a dozen seats in the National Assembly.
He has now received political support from other major opposition groups – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – who accuse the government of deteriorating the country’s economy and victimizing opposition politicians by slamming them in jails on corruption charges.
“Pakistan is a democratic country and we want to resolve all issues of the opposition through dialogue,” the defense minister said, though he also warned the opposition parties against creating an environment of chaos and turmoil in the country.
“It is their [opposition’s] democratic right to protest, but if the opposition only wants to spread anarchy in the garb of agitation we won’t allow it,” Khattak added.
Meanwhile, the JUI-F has ruled out the possibility of talks with the government until the prime minister resigns from his position. “This is an illegitimate government, a product of rigged elections and we may talk to them only after the prime minister resigns,” Hafiz Hamdullah, senior JUI-F leader, told Arab News.
He said that “all preparations for the anti-government march are in place and no force can stop us now from marching toward Islamabad.”
Political analysts said the government’s engagement with the opposition parties to stop their protest at this stage would not yield result, but some differences over issues, such as transparency in elections and improvement in governance, can be worked out.
“Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who was reduced to a nobody after the last year’s elections, has succeeded in garnering political relevance through mounting pressure against the government,” Zahid Hussain, a political commentator, told Arab News.
He said the opposition parties would protest against the government as per plan, but “they will neither succeed in getting the prime minister’s resignation nor a new date for fresh polls in the country.”


Pakistan imports tomatoes from Iran to meet growing shortage at home

Updated 15 November 2019

Pakistan imports tomatoes from Iran to meet growing shortage at home

  • Says the US sanctions don’t apply on trade related to food items
  • The import will be for about four weeks to meet the shortage in local market, official says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan government has allowed businessmen to import tomatoes from neighboring Iran to meet increasing demand at home and to control the skyrocketing price of the commodity in the local market.
“The tomatoes import from Iran is allowed for three to four weeks to meet the shortage,” Muhammad Ameer Sultan, Parliamentary Secretary for National Food Security and Research, told Arab News on Friday.
Tomato is one of the major staples in Pakistan and its recent shortage and resultant price hike in the market has fueled public protests and criticism of the government. This has prompted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to allow import of the commodity from neighboring country which is otherwise struggling to discourage imports to bring down the ballooning trade and current account deficits.
Sultan said that the tomato crop arrival has been delayed in Sindh and Balochistan provinces due to cold weather while Punjab’s production has already hit the market. “This is a temporary shortage … the import from Iran will help bring down the commodity’s prices in the market,” he said.
He expected the imported tomatoes would reach Pakistani vegetables markets in the next few days. He also clarified that Pakistan had not been importing tomatoes from India since 2017 due to a ‘disease’ in the produce, which could harm the local crop seed.
“This is a misconception. We weren’t importing tomatoes from India even when the bilateral trade was open,” he said.
The tomatoes price shot up in the market in recent days owing to the acute shortage of the produce and it is being sold as high as Rs300 ($1.93) per kilogram in different parts of the country. The official price of one kilogram of tomatoes on average in major cities is calculated to be Rs164 ($1.05), according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
The government has not set any exact quota or quantity of tomatoes to be imported from Iran, the parliamentary secretary said, adding that the import would end automatically after the arrival of the new crop in the market by early December.
Iran has been under the US economic sanctions for its controversial nuclear program that has inhibited Pakistan and other countries to establish trade and economic relationship with the Islamic Republic. Islamabad therefore has no legal banking channel with Tehran for payments against any import or export. The volume of bilateral trade between the two countries stands around mere $400 million per annum.
“The US sanctions don’t apply on trade related to food items,” the parliamentary secretary said, “we have been doing barter trade with Iran for vegetables and fruits only.”