Pakistan, Afghanistan mull joint committee to reduce tensions

In this file photo, Afghan security personnel stand guard in front of the Pakistan embassy in Kabul on May 10, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Pakistan, Afghanistan mull joint committee to reduce tensions

  • The committee will identify issues resulting in growing diplomatic tensions between the two countries
  • Last week, Pakistan’s DG ISI held a candid meeting with the NDS chief in Kabul

PESHAWAR: Following a high-powered Pakistani delegation’s visit to Kabul last week, Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to set up a technical committee to sort out their differences, said senior Pakistani diplomats in Kabul on Monday.
“Last week, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Director General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood, went to Kabul to hold a meeting with the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency, and decided to form a committee to resolve outstanding issues,” a senior official at Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, who declined to be named, told Arab News.
In a follow-up meeting on Sunday, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Zahidullah Nasrullah Khan and Afghan Acting Foreign Minister Idrees Zaman held discussions to move forward and settle bilateral issues, he added.
According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting between Khan and Zaman focused on some important bilateral arrangements as well as upcoming events.
“The two sides covered a host of issues related to bilateral ties,” the ministry’s statement added.
It stated that the discussions also included the upcoming Beijing Dialogue and the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) meeting due to be held in Kabul in the coming weeks. 
APAPPS framework provides an inclusive mechanism to enhance engagement between the institutions of the two countries.
“During the course of meeting between the two intelligence chiefs, they discussed a range of issues, such as the summoning of the Afghan Ambassador, Atif Mashal, by intelligence officials in Islamabad, harassment of Pakistani diplomats in Kabul, construction of Pakistan Army check post on the Pak-Afghan border, dispute over the Afghan Market in Peshawar and firing incidents on civilian population in Chitral district by the Afghan security forces,” the Pakistani official added.
The technical committee, he continued, would evaluate the reasons behind the growing diplomatic tensions between the two estranged neighbors.


Critics cry foul as Pakistan looks to curb coronavirus 'fake news' on social media

Updated 09 July 2020

Critics cry foul as Pakistan looks to curb coronavirus 'fake news' on social media

  • Government sets up committee to prepare new “legal framework” to tackle coronavirus-related misinformation
  • Rights activists fear the new laws will be used to choke freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister said on Thursday the government planned to introduce new laws to curb coronavirus misinformation on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities will use the additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
On Wednesday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with coronavirus-related “fake news” on social media platforms.
Islamabad has previously struggled to regulate online content mostly by blocking or asking social media companies to remove blasphemous material and other posts that violate the country’s religious and cultural norms and laws or hurt national security interests.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
“Is the government a fool?” the interior minister said to Arab News on Thursday when asked if the NCOC had set up the new committee on the pretext of curtailing free speech or criticism of the government’s coronavirus mitigation policies. “If somebody asks me to suppress social media, I’ll straightaway say that I can’t do it.”
However, he said, the government was resolved to find ways to prevent the flow of false information regarding the pandemic.
These efforts, rights activists say, would allow the government to use the pandemic as an “excuse” to suppress freedom of speech.
“Social media companies have themselves been taking down disinformation and propaganda regarding COVID-19 since such posts go against their community standards,” Usama Khilji, director of Pakistani digital rights group Bolo Bhi, told Arab News, urging the government to improve coordination with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook in order to have inaccurate information removed instead of enacting new “draconian rules.”
Last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued an advisory to local media houses instructing them not to air coronavirus-related content that was “not based on ground realities” and was likely to create “unnecessary panic.” 
The advisory was seen as a warning to critics of the government’s efforts to fight growing rates of infection.
“If the government wants to counter online disinformation, it can do it by releasing authentic information instead of coercing journalists and media houses,” Iqbal Khattak, who represents Reporters Without Borders in Pakistan, told Arab News. “It must immediately drop its plan to enact new social media rules since we already know its objective is to undermine freedom of expression.”