All Pakistani inmates with completed terms sent home from Saudi: Envoy

A general view of Ha’er Prison in Saudi Arabia July 6, 2015. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 January 2020

All Pakistani inmates with completed terms sent home from Saudi: Envoy

  • Pakistan’s ambassador says perception that there were still a large number of Pakistanis languishing in Saudi jails was incorrect
  • 88 Pakistanis out of a total 1,848 in the consular jurisdiction of Riyadh released and repatriated in December 2019

ISLAMABAD: No Pakistani prisoners who have completed their jail terms remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s envoy to the Kingdom, Raja Ali Ejaz, said on Sunday.

According to a document provided to Arab News by Pakistan’s embassy in Riyadh, 88 Pakistani prisoners out of a total 1,848 in the consular jurisdiction of Riyadh were released and repatriated in December 2019. Now 1,760 Pakistanis are imprisoned in Saudi jails.

“All Pakistani prisoners in consular jurisdiction Riyadh who had completed their sentences till December 31, 2019, have been released and repatriated to Pakistan,’ the ambassador said via telephone from Riyadh. “Saudi Authorities are coordinating and cooperating with us, due to which many prisoners were released even ahead of the completion of their term.”

Ejaz said the perception that there were still many Pakistanis languishing in Saudi jails was incorrect. “There is a very large Pakistani community, of around 2.6 million people, that resides in Saudi Arabia, out of which around 3,000 prisoners is not as big a number as propagated.”

“The embassy has devised a procedure with the help of the Saudi government to provide advance information to the host government every month from July 2019 onwards,” Ejaz said. “The (Pakistani) mission shared the names and identity particulars of Pakistani prisoners expected to be released during the following month,” he added. The division of the Kingdom into two consular jurisdictions, one in Riyadh and the other in Jeddah, had also made the process more seamless, the envoy said.

The Pakistani envoy said these steps helped the embassy maintain up-to-date data of Pakistani prisoners in Saudi jails while ensuring timely repatriation and releases.

In February 2019, Pakistan’s Information Ministry announced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the release of about 2,100 Pakistani prisoners from the Kingdom’s jails during a high-profile visit to Islamabad. In September last year, Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan, Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia had released 579 Pakistani prisoners in line with the crown prince’s announcement.


Irregular electrical supply from Iran causes power outages in Pakistan’s Gwadar

Updated 29 July 2021

Irregular electrical supply from Iran causes power outages in Pakistan’s Gwadar

  • Officials say the country’s energy minister took up the issue with Iranian envoy who promised to fix the problem
  • Pakistan gets 100 megawatts from Iran for its coastal region in Balochistan which is not connected to the national grid

KARACHI: Pakistan’s southwestern coastal region in Balochistan has been facing prolonged power outages for over three weeks, in part due to a drastic reduction of power supply from Iran, a senior official said on Thursday.
Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement in 2003 under which Iran had to daily supply 35 megawatts to Balochistan's coastal belt. In 2011, the agreement was extended, and Iran was asked to increase the capacity to 70 megawatts.
Five years later, when construction work in the deep-sea port of Gwadar gained momentum, 30 megawatts were added to the power supply and Iran has since been selling 100 megawatts to Pakistan to light up its coastal areas.
In a Twitter post on Thursday, Pakistan’s energy minister said the power outages in Gwadar, Turbat and Makran in Balochistan province were due to these areas not being connected to the national grid and depending on Iranian electricity.

“Pakistan’s energy minister Hammad Azhar took up the issue with the Iranian ambassador today, urging him to take necessary steps to ensure uninterrupted power supply at the earliest,” Zafar Yab Khan, a power division spokesperson, told Arab News. “The Iranian envoy assured him to restore the electricity, saying the government in his country was working to fix the problem in the border areas.”
According to Muhammad Afzal, a spokesperson of the Quetta Electric Supply Company, the country is also purchasing four megawatts from Iran for the border towns of Taftan and Mashkel.
Senator Ahmed Ali Ahmedzai, who raised the issue of power outages during a recent meeting of a Senate standing committee, said electricity breakdowns had become common in the last few years.
“My colleagues and I have raised the issue in the standing committee meeting since we are facing a serious problem in Makran district which solely relies on Iranian power supply,” he told Arab News.
Officials say the problem began earlier this month.
“Iran cut down the electrical supply from 100 to 10 megawatts on July 6 without prior warning,” said Afzal. “These 10 megawatts cannot be provided to people since we use them to protect our valuable electricity installations and equipment.”
The Iranian embassy in Islamabad and its consulate in Karachi did not respond to Arab News requests for a comment.
Iran is also facing an indigenous power outages issue.

 


United States donates 3 million Moderna doses to Pakistan under COVAX facility

Updated 29 July 2021

United States donates 3 million Moderna doses to Pakistan under COVAX facility

  • United States donates 3 million Moderna doses to Pakistan under COVAX facility
  • Washington has already delivered more than $50 million in COVID-19 assistance to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States on Thursday donated three million doses of Moderna vaccine to Pakistan in partnership with the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility and UNICEF, said a statement released by the American embassy in Islamabad.

“This donation is part of the 80 million doses the United States is sharing with the world, delivering on our pledge to facilitate equitable global access to safe and effective vaccines, which are essential to ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the statement. “As President Biden has said, the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home.”

US Embassy Chargé d’affaires Angela P. Aggeler maintained her country was trying to support access to COVID-19 vaccines for the populations that needed them the most.

“The arrival of these three million doses is in addition to the 2.5 million doses the United States donated earlier this month to the people of Pakistan,” she continued. “These vaccines, which come from our own domestic vaccine supply, are a clear demonstration of President Biden’s promise – and our promises kept – to stand with the people of Pakistan in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The American embassy further said the United States had delivered more than $50 million in COVID-19 assistance to Pakistan.

It added that the US had worked with Pakistan since the beginning of the pandemic to improve infection prevention and control, enhance patient care, expand laboratory testing, disease monitoring, and case tracking in all districts, and support frontline healthcare workers.


In a first, Pakistan allocates Rs.1 billion to promote official policies on digital platforms

Updated 29 July 2021

In a first, Pakistan allocates Rs.1 billion to promote official policies on digital platforms

  • Influencers and bloggers with a minimum following of 35,000 will be eligible to register themselves for government ads
  • Content creators will be paid after half of their subscribers view the promotional material posted on their website or channel

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has for the first time allocated Rs1 billion ($6.2 million) for promotional advertisements on digital media platforms, making its officials maintain the decision will benefit the country’s media industry.
Under the new advertisement policy approved by the federal cabinet on Tuesday, the government will earmark at least 2.5 percent of the total budget outlay of any development project for running an effective advertisement campaign to create awareness about its policies, projects and initiatives and highlight their potential contribution to the socio-economic welfare of the people.
The government has for the first time included digital media and cinema for “transparent, judicious and merit-based utilization” of its resources on public sector advertisement campaigns.
“Digital platforms have emerged as primary source of information for many people in Pakistan,” Imran Ghazali, who works with the government’s digital media wing, told Arab News on Thursday. “Therefore, we have decided to give them ads like the traditional print and electronic media.”
The advertisement policy, a copy of which is available with Arab News, requires news websites and portals to guarantee minimum viewership of promotional material within 48 hours of its publishing.
The official document also maintains that if the minimum viewership criterion is not met, the digital platforms will have to post additional material until the mandatory numbers are reached to get their payment.
“Only those websites or social media pages will be eligible for government ads which are approved and registered with the Press Information Department and adhere to Article 19 of the constitution,” Ghazali said.
Article 19 of Pakistan’s 1973 constitution guarantees free speech and media freedom, though it also subjects them to “reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan.”
Ghazali informed that social media influencers, bloggers and vloggers would be registered if they had a minimum following of 35,000 and were active for at least 18 months before their registration application.
“We are going to open the registration process soon,” he added. “This will help initiate a healthy competition among content creators who will ensure that people get quality and authentic information.”
He maintained that the government had formulated a transparent mechanism for registration and issuance of digital media ads.
“We believe in merit and judicious use of officials funds, therefore there is no question of any discrimination or favoritism,” he continued.
The policy says digital content creators will have to ensure viewership of half of their total number of subscribers within two weeks.
The government has also included cinema for advertisements in its policy, saying that “cinema media can reach a huge target audience each month and its advertising recalls are four times higher than ads placed on television.”
Currently, there are 148 cinema screens in Pakistan and 7,200 seats with 3.5 million customers annually and 65,000 shows per annum.
Pakistan’s federal body of journalists has welcomed the policy, though it has also urged the government to ensure transparency and merit while registering digital platforms and releasing ads.
“We hope the government will release ads for digital media without any discrimination and bias,” Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), told Arab News.


Pakistan to ban public sector, education, malls, air travel for unvaccinated

Updated 29 July 2021

Pakistan to ban public sector, education, malls, air travel for unvaccinated

  • From Aug. 1, unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to enter government offices, schools, restaurants and shopping malls
  • Over 27.8 million Pakistanis have now received at least one vaccine shot, while only 5.9 million have been fully vaccinated

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will ban air travel for anyone without a COVID-19 vaccine certificate from Aug.1 and will require all public sector workers to get vaccinated by Aug. 31, the government announced on Thursday along with a host of other restrictions.
From Aug. 1, unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to enter government offices, schools, restaurants and shopping malls, said Asad Umar, who heads National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), a military-run body that oversees the pandemic response, at a joint news conference with the health minister in Islamabad.
Teachers and students above 18, public transport and retail staff will also be required to get vaccinated by the enad of August, they said.
Pakistan has seen coronavirus infections soar, dominated by Delta variant, and its poor health infrastructure is under extreme pressure.
The national positive test rate for COVID stands at 7.53 percent, according to the NCOC. The rate in the southern port city of Karachi touched 23 percent in recent weeks. 
“If you’re not vaccinated you can’t go to teach at schools and colleges from August 1,” Umar said.
“We can’t put our children’s lives at risk just because that you’re not ready to get the vaccine.”
The NCOC has said the Delta, Beta, and Alpha variants of the virus have all been detected in Pakistan since May.
After a sluggish start, the government ramped up its national vaccination drive, especially in the heartland Punjab province, with 850,000 doses administered on Wednesday across the country.
Umar said the target is to touch one million doses a day.
According to the NCOC, over 27.8 million have now received at least one vaccine shot, while only 5.9 million have been fully vaccinated out of a population of 220 million.
It said Pakistan registered 4,497 new cases and 76 deaths in the last 24 hours, with over 3,000 people in critical condition. So far 23,209 people have died of COVID-19 in Pakistan.


Pakistan not responsible for Afghan Taliban, nor group’s spokesperson — PM Imran

Updated 29 July 2021

Pakistan not responsible for Afghan Taliban, nor group’s spokesperson — PM Imran

  • Asks what US will achieve from operating bases in Pakistan which it could not in Afghanistan for two decades
  • Pakistani PM meets and holds dialogue with Afghan journalists visiting Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday Pakistan was neither “responsible” for the actions of the Afghan Taliban, nor a spokesperson for the group, local media reported.
The PM was speaking to a group of Afghan journalists visiting Islamabad.
“What the Taliban are doing or are not doing has nothing to do with us and we are not responsible, neither are we the spokesperson of the Taliban,” Khan was quoted by Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper as saying.
He said a “military solution” in Afghanistan had been a “flawed strategy” of the United States, asking what the US could achieve from operating bases out of Pakistan which it could not achieve by operating in Afghanistan for two decades.
“It was a flawed strategy. They should have talked to the Taliban from a position of strength when there were 150,000 NATO soldiers present in Afghanistan. There is no reason for the US to operate from Pakistan,” Khan said, reiterating that Pakistan would not get dragged into more conflict in Afghanistan.
The PM said Pakistan would not accept Indian participation in the Afghan peace process until New Delhi reverted its decision to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its constitutional autonomy.
“Pakistan has always desired peace with India, but it was India which did not want peace,” Khan said.