Steeped in religious history, Pakistan’s KP to host conference for Buddhist countries

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Takht Bhai is the most complete Buddhist monastery in Pakistan founded in the 1st century. (Photo Courtesy of Social Media)
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Ancient remains of a Buddhist monastery in Takht Bhai, in Mardan, KP province. Dec. 8, 2019 (AN photo)
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Reverend Dr. Neung Hur, a leading Buddhist monk and scholar from South Korea, points to his paintings in Islamabad on Dec. 8, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Buddhist scholars Dr. Esther Park and Reverend Dr. Neung Hur, and Sadaf Raza, Director for a Pakistan based NGO, pose for a photo on Dec. 8, 2019. (AN photo)
Updated 09 December 2019

Steeped in religious history, Pakistan’s KP to host conference for Buddhist countries

  • Pakistan’s government has been working to boost religious tourism in the country
  • Korean Buddhists trace their religious origins to the area that is now Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province will host a conference for Buddhist countries next year in a bid to boost greater religious tourism, a senior official said on Saturday.
Buddhist tourism has an estimated market of 500 million Buddhists across the world, according to the US-based think tank, Pew Research Center. For these Buddhists, Pakistan’s Gandhara region in the country’s northwest, which includes Mardan, Taxila and Swat, holds a special place. Specifically, Korean Buddhists trace their religious origin to the area that is now Pakistan, which was where Korean monk Hyecho traveled 1,300 years ago.
In a brief chat with Arab News, spokesperson for the KP Tourism Corporation, Nisar Muhammad, said the idea for a conference first emerged during a meeting between provincial tourism minister, Atif Khan and South Korean Ambassador to Pakistan, Kwak Sung-Kyu on Friday.




Buddhist scholars Dr. Esther Park and Reverend Dr. Neung Hur, and Sadaf Raza, Director for a Pakistan based NGO, pose for a photo on Dec. 8, 2019. (AN photo)

“Though the date has not been specified yet, the conference is expected to be held by the end of January or the start of February next year,” he said.
A statement released by the KP Tourism Corporation said both dignitaries had agreed to set up the Gandhara Research Center in the province with the help of the Korean government. 
“KP has more than 2,000 Buddhist historical and sacred sites and the provincial government is taking effective steps to secure and develop these places,” the statement said, and added that Khan’s government had earmarked Rs. 1 billion for the preservation of all archaeological sites including Buddhist holy sites in the province.
Reverend Dr. Neung Hur, a leading Buddhist monk and academic from South Korea, told Arab News he appreciated the KP government’s efforts in planning to host a Buddhist countries’ conference, which would project sacred Buddhist sites to the world and attract more pilgrimages.




Reverend Dr. Neung Hur, a leading Buddhist monk and scholar from South Korea, points to his paintings in Islamabad on Dec. 8, 2019. (AN Photo)

“This conference is of paramount importance...(it) intends to promote interfaith harmony and bring followers of different faiths closer,” Dr. Hur said. 
Dr. Esther Park, a Korean Buddhist scholar, added that the people of her religious community had matchless regard for the Gandhara region of KP, which had thousands of sacred Buddhist sites. 
“We are keenly looking forward to attend this conference,” she told Arab News. 
Earlier on Wednesday, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Pakistan, Noordeen Mohamed Shaheid, held a meeting with the Tourism Minister in Peshawar to discuss religious tourism, bilateral relations and investment in various sectors, according to a press release.
On the occasion, Shaheid said 72 percent of the population of Sri Lanka comprised of Buddhists and that a Buddhist delegation would visit Pakistan, especially KP province, early next year.


Pakistan arrests key suspect in Lahore bombing that killed 3

Updated 37 min 24 sec ago

Pakistan arrests key suspect in Lahore bombing that killed 3

  • Security officials say the man behind Wednesday's attack was arrested at the airport as he was trying to leave the country
  • Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said earlier in the day the police were close to arresting those responsible for the car bombing

LAHORE: Pakistani security forces on Thursday arrested one of the alleged perpetrators of a car bombing the day before that killed three people and wounded 25 near the residence of a convicted militant leader linked to the Mumbai terrorist attacks, officials said.
The man behind Wednesday's attack in the eastern city of Lahore was arrested at the airport as he was trying to leave the country, said Suhail Ahmad, a security official familiar with the investigation. He identified the man as Pakistani national David Peter.
Ahmad refused to share further details, saying the government would issue a statement about a breakthrough in the case achieved by the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department with the help of the country's intelligence agencies.
Hours earlier, Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video message on Twitter that the Punjab police were close to arresting those responsible for the Lahore car bombing.
The powerful explosion in the Johar Town neighborhood was near the residence of anti-India militant leader Hafiz Saeed, designated a terrorist by the US Justice Department and has a $10 million bounty on his head.
Saeed is the founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. He was unharmed in Wednesday's bombing, but the windows of his home were shattered.
Last year, Pakistan sentenced Saeed to 15 years in prison in a terror-financing case, but he was never charged in connection with the Mumbai attacks. He has been serving his term at home under a government order.
Saeed's Lashkar-e-Taiba was active for years mainly in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety. In the Indian-administered sector of Kashmir, rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule, or as an independent country.
Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations and they have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence in 1947.


Experts divided over effectiveness of Pakistan’s new intelligence coordination committee

Updated 24 June 2021

Experts divided over effectiveness of Pakistan’s new intelligence coordination committee

  • Despite being notified earlier this year, there is little information on the composition, working and mandate of the body
  • Some analysts say it will be yet another "institutional layer" in the absence of a robust accountability mechanism

ISLAMABAD: The National Intelligence Coordination Committee (NICC) will help collate key information to counter the threat of religious militancy and terrorism, security experts said on Thursday, though some analysts also dismissed the new body as yet another institutional layer in the absence of an effective accountability mechanism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday presided over the inaugural session of the body at the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Islamabad.
“A comprehensive briefing followed by discussion on enhanced intelligence cooperation was held. [The] Prime Minister appreciated the ongoing efforts and expressed satisfaction over the performance of National Intelligence Coordination Committee,” the PM Office said in a statement after the meeting.
The event was also attended by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the heads of the services’ intelligence agencies, Intelligence Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency, according to the statement.
The government notified the platform on January 22, though little information has been disclosed to the public about its composition, working, funding and mandate.
The information ministry and the military did not reply to calls seeks comment for this piece.
Lieutenant General (r) Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, said the idea had been in the pipeline for the last many years, but failed to materialize due to differences within the spy agencies regarding its composition and leadership.
“The platform will help intelligence agencies pool information to develop a complete picture before forwarding it to the government and other relevant departments,” he told Arab News on Thursday.
Shoaib said various intelligence agencies were working separately in the past and were shy of sharing information with other agencies. “This gap in their working relationship led to intelligence breaches in some cases,” he said.
“The platform will help fight terrorism effectively, besides boosting the country’s overall defense and security,” he added.
Political analyst and columnist Mosharraf Zaidi called the committee a "good start" but said there was a long way to go to improve coordination.
“Coordinating functions for intelligence collection and analysis is a longstanding need in Pakistani national security equation,” he told Arab News. “But as long as intelligence is dominated by the military, the full potential of Pakistan’s national power capabilities will continue to be constrained by the legacy of civil-military divide in the country.”
Around two dozen intelligence agencies are working in Pakistan with their respective mandates, and civil-military intelligence coordination has mostly remained a hurdle in their operations.
Author and defence expert Ayesha Siddiqa said full details of the intelligence coordination body should be shared with the public for transparency in its operations since it would otherwise be “just another institutional layer” without any effectiveness.
“Civilians have not been a key stakeholder in Pakistan’s intelligence service as it has always been dominated by the military,” she told Arab News. “Only time will tell therefore regarding the new body’s efficacy.”
Siddiqa noted that only infrastructure was not required to enhance intelligence cooperation in Pakistan, and
the accountability of any institutional setup was also key.
“We have witnessed a number of incidents that resulted from intelligence breach,” she said, asking: “Have we ever had accountability of ... spy agencies?”


Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

Updated 24 June 2021

Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

  • Oil transporters are also protesting a proposed change in the loading system, saying it will help companies monopolize the business
  • The government has invited transporters of petroleum products for talks in Islamabad on Friday

KARACHI: Local transporters of petroleum products on Thursday announced an indefinite strike after a tax increase in the country’s budget, disrupting 80 percent of supplies from Pakistan’s port city of Karachi and generating fears of a nationwide shortage of petrol and diesel in the coming days.
“The government has increased the withholding tax from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent which is not viable for our business,” Israr Ahmed Shinwari of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association told Arab News.
“They are also changing the 40-year-old loading system that operated on the first-come-first-served basis,” he continued. “This will not only allow companies to monopolize the business but also deprive about 400 people of their jobs.”
Shinwari confirmed that oil supplies from Karachi had been suspended and more than 10,000 tankers were taken off the city's roads.
“The supplies in other parts of country are continuing as per routine,” he informed. “If our demands are not met, however, we will go on a nationwide strike and take more than 42,000 vehicles off the country’s roads.”
Abidullah Afridi, president of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Contractors Association which originally gave the strike call, told Arab News that around 1,500 tankers were loaded in Karachi on a daily basis for the city and upcountry, adding that all of them had been parked by their owners to protest the government’s measures.
“We will not back off until our demands are met,” he maintained.
Shinwari confirmed the government had invited local transporters for talks in Islamabad on Friday.
If the strike continues in the coming days, it will create an acute fuel shortage in the country.
Petroleum dealers said on Thursday they had only received about 20 percent of supplies, though they added that their available stocks had so far prevented a crisis.
“We have received around 20 percent supplies through tankers which were loaded a day before and overnight,” Abdul Sami Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association, told Arab News.
“We have managed the situation by using our available stocks,” he continued. “We hope that a way out will soon be found or else we will have to shut down our petrol pumps.”
Meanwhile, officials of the Pakistan State Oil, a state-owned entity responsible for marketing and distribution of petroleum products, denied any supply disruption due to the strike.
They said that alternative measures would be taken to ensure smooth supplies in the coming days.
So far, the oil supplies have not been fully disrupted since a faction of transporters belonging to the Oil Tankers Owners Association has distanced itself from the protest.
“In the current economic situation, the strike is not in the interest of the country and economy, so we have decided to stay away from it,” Haji Hanif Kakar, the association’s general secretary, said.


Pakistani Taliban warn women in northwest against working for government, NGOs

Updated 24 June 2021

Pakistani Taliban warn women in northwest against working for government, NGOs

  • Threaten "consequences" if women in North Waziristan take up jobs with government departments
  • In February this year, militants shot dead four female aid workers near a main town in North Waziristan

PESHAWAR: The Pakistani Taliban on Thursday warned women in Pakistan's northwest of "consequences" and meeting their "ultimate fate" if they took up jobs with the government or non-governmental organizations.

The Pakistani Taliban are an umbrella of militant groups called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is banned by the Pakistani government and designated a terrorist group by the US. They are a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban.

In February this year, militants shot dead four female aid workers near Mir Ali, a main town in North Waziristan.

“Women are strictly warned not to undertake jobs at any government body or its stooges (NGOs) on the soil of (North) Waziristan, otherwise everyone knows its consequences,” TTP's spokesperson for North Waziristan, Abdul Rehman, said in a statement.

"Females from the adjacent Bannu or other districts continue to work with government or NGOs presumably for public welfare, but they are causing obscenity despite repeated warnings," Rehman said, adding that the women were "under our observation" and "will meet their ultimate fate soon."

TTP has been in disarray in recent years, after Pakistan military operations and US drone strikes targeting their hideouts in North and South Waziristan, but in August announced a reunion with some of its splinters. The group has since stepped up attacks on government troops and installations in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, rising concerns that the militants are regrouping there.

The war-torn tribal belt remains one of the most underdeveloped areas of Pakistan.

Senior analyst Rustam Shah Mohmand said the TTP was trying to regain grip over the region and building pressure with threats.

"The TTP is now disorganized, desperate and wants to restore its standing," he said. "But people aren’t ready to accept them."


Individual countries deciding on vaccine acceptability for travel ‘creating chaos’ — Pakistani minister

Updated 24 June 2021

Individual countries deciding on vaccine acceptability for travel ‘creating chaos’ — Pakistani minister

  • Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar says the health and well-being of world citizens cannot be held hostage to global geostrategic rivalries
  • Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently urged an international forum to abandon ‘vaccine nationalism’ and help developing nations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar said on Thursday the decision concerning the travel suitability of various COVID-19 vaccines should be taken by relevant global institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) instead of individual nations.
Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operations Center that oversees his country’s pandemic response, maintained in a Twitter post that the health and well-being of people across the world should not be held “hostage to global geostrategic rivalries.”
“Each country deciding which vaccine is acceptable for travel to that country is creating chaos,” he claimed.


Pakistan has heavily relied on COVID-19 vaccines prepared in China since the beginning of its immunization drive in February this year.
Many developed countries, however, have decided not to grant travel permission to people who took Chinese vaccines, asking world citizens to take Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson instead.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently urged the international community to abandon “vaccine nationalism” and help developing nations with post-pandemic economic recovery.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also upheld China’s perspective on the issue while addressing the Asia and Pacific High Level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation on Wednesday.
“Echoing the sentiments of the speakers today, let me on behalf of this distinguished forum, endorse President Xi Jinping’s declaration of making COVID-19 vaccine a global public good, dispel notions of stigmatization, and reject vaccine nationalism,” Qureshi said. “We should make collective endeavors to ensure equitable and affordable supply of vaccine to developing countries.”
There are several vaccine brands available in the international market and every country has approved some specific version of it for its citizens, leading to a question of universal acceptability and creating obstacles for those traveling to other countries.
Early this week, Pakistan signed a deal with Pfizer for an additional 1.3 million COVID-19 doses without releasing details of its agreement.
The country has so far administered over 13.8 million doses and aims to vaccinate 70 million people by next year.
In recent weeks, Pakistan has witnessed a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and its positivity ratio has also reduced significantly.
According to official data, 1,097 people tested positive for the disease and 38 deaths were reported on Wednesday.
The country has so far reported 951,865 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22,108 fatalities since the emergence of the pandemic last year.