Pakistani businessmen raise Rs21 million on WhatsApp for virus most affected

People queue as they wait to receive charity food alongside a road during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Rawalpindi on March 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Pakistani businessmen raise Rs21 million on WhatsApp for virus most affected

  • All donations were made via no-touch payment transactions
  • Corporate Pakistan Group (CPG) is also going to support frontline medical staff with personal protective equipment

KARACHI: Within two days, members of a Pakistani group on WhatsApp raised Rs21 million to help the country’s most vulnerable from sinking into poverty, as many commercial activities have been shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The economic impact of the epidemic has already hit millions of Pakistani families, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on daily wage work, testing both the government’s response and society’s generosity in a time of a major public health crisis. The latter gives hope.
“Two days back I shared my intention with the group members and the response was overwhelming,” said Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, founder of Corporate Pakistan Group (CPG). “Within two days we have received more than Rs21 million pledges made by our members through WhatsApp. Our target was Rs20 million.”
“The initiative was suggested by CPG member Shamsuddin Shaikh and now other members of the group, Zafar Sobani and Saleem Ranjha are managing this initiative with him,” Ahsan added.
CPG has 256 members, including the country’s top businessmen, policy makers, security officials, and scholars. Many of them pledge further donations.
Since cash has been increasingly seen as a vehicle for coronavirus, no-touch payment tools were used for all contributions, Ahsan said, “All transactions have taken place in virtual space without any physical contact.”




Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, founder of Corporate Pakistan Group. (Supplied)

He said the money raised was not transferred to any private account, but channeled directly to three renowned charities — Akhuwat Foundation, Bait-ul-Salam, and Orange Tree Foundation (Robinhood Army). Equal distribution of the funds was managed by two chartered accountants who volunteered their time for the purpose.
Besides organizing emergency food assistance to poor families affected by the crisis, the group is also going to support frontline medical staff with personal protective equipment, as shortages of masks and protective wear in Pakistan are directly putting at risk the lives of those who are saving others from the coronavirus pandemic
“Orders have been placed for manufacturing of safety kits for doctors and paramedical staff,” Ahsan said. “The state has to play major role but we will continue to play our role with continued funding.
“The first phase is challenging, we are preparing to face the challenges,” he said, admitting that the group is planning response activities for the next couple of weeks, as the health crisis situation is unfolding.
In preparation for other crisis scenarios in the future, by the end of the year the group is going to establish a think tank, Ahsan said, “It would be Pakistan’s biggest policy institute.”


Third Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar in last four months

Updated 4 min 8 sec ago

Third Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar in last four months

  • Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar looked after the insurgent group’s military deployments in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province
  • He fought against Daesh militants in Afghanistan who claimed responsibility for the attack

ISLAMABAD: A senior Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar was killed in Peshawar Monday afternoon by two gunmen riding a motorbike, confirmed a police official and two Taliban leaders.
The slain Taliban commander looked after military deployments in Nangarhar, and his killing was also mentioned by the governor of the Afghan province Ziaulhaq Amarkhil in a Twitter post.
Rehbar was scheduled to return to Afghanistan as top Taliban leaders had asked their key commanders to reach their respective areas in the war-battered country.
The attack on Rehbar was claimed by Daesh.
His brother Maulvi Noor Muhammad was also killed in Peshawar in a shooting incident about 15 years ago.
A police official in Peshawar who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media said three other people accompanying 35-year-old Rehbar were also injured in the attack.
Rehbar’s body had been shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital and investigations were launched to determine the motive behind the incident, he added.
Afghan analysts say the slain Taliban commander had fought against Daesh militants in Nangarhar which could be the main reason behind his murder in Peshawar.
Zakir Jalali, a security analyst, said Taliban officials were easy to target when they live a normal life as refugees.
Jalali told Arab News Rehbar had resisted Daesh fighters in Khogyani district of Nangarhar and the group decided to kill him since he was a “soft target” inside Pakistan.
The slain commander was the third Taliban leader who was killed in Peshawar during the last four months.
Maulvi Abdul Hadi, the Taliban governor for Laghman, was assassinated in Peshawar in February.
In January, another Taliban leader Abdul Samad Mullah Toor was killed near the city.
Several senior Taliban commanders, including the group’s chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, were also killed in American drone attacks in the past.
Unidentified gunmen shot dead Dr. Nasiruddin Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban deputy chief, near Islamabad in November 2013.
A former senior Taliban figure, Abdullah alias Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, who was known to be in favor of peace talks with the Hamid Karzai administration, was gunned down in Peshawar in February 2014.
Meanwhile, a former Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmayeen died of COVID-19 in Peshawar in January.
Mutmayeen served as Taliban spokesperson after Mullah Omar launched the movement in Kandahar in 1994.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Mutmayeen’s death and conveyed the insurgent group’s condolences to his family.


Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador's expulsion today

Updated 41 min 6 sec ago

Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador's expulsion today

  • The announcement came after the interior and religious affairs ministers met leaders of Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party for negotiations in Lahore
  • The interior minister says the government has assured the TLP all cases against its workers will be withdrawn 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Tuesday it would present a resolution in the National Assembly later in the day for the expulsion of the French ambassador to meet the demand of a recently banned religious party in the country.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party held violent nationwide protests to force the government to honor what it said was a commitment made to it last February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in France.
“It is agreed between the government and TLP after negotiations that we will present a resolution in the National Assembly today for the expulsion of the French ambassador,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video statement early Tuesday.
The announcement comes after a government delegation, comprising the interior and religious affairs ministers, met the TLP leaders for negotiations in Lahore. The government representatives held at least three rounds of talks with the protesters to convince them to call off their demonstrations.
The interior minister said the TLP had agreed to call off protests and sit-ins across the country.
“The process of negotiations will move forward,” he added.
All cases registered against the TLP workers will also be withdrawn, he said, adding that he will give a detailed briefing on the development in a press conference later today.
The National Assembly will also meet at 3pm on Tuesday to debate the issue.
Last night, the government closed all major roads in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with shipping containers, fearing the TLP workers may move toward the twin cities to hold anti-France protests.
The government has apparently shown flexibility in its stance to end TLP protests as Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address to the nation on Monday that breaking diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the European Union and fuel poverty, unemployment and inflation in the country.
“The biggest effect [of breaking ties with France] will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said, adding that breaking ties with France would amount to severing relations with the entire European Union.
“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said. “We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”
Violent protests by the rightwing group rocked the country since last Monday when TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) published in France last year.
The protests paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the killing of six policemen, according to the government. Photographs of the police, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, were posted on social media by their captors through the week.
On Sunday, TLP said three of its members were killed during clashes outside the TLP headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The group also took a number of police officers and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 policemen in the early hours of Monday after negotiations with the government.
The riots also prompted the French embassy last week to recommend all its nationals to temporarily leave the country.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision was approved by the federal cabinet, thought it needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the official dissolution of the group.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed the blasphemous cartoons to his pupils during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.


Pakistan says UAE extends $2 billion loan repayment deadline

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistan says UAE extends $2 billion loan repayment deadline

  • The decision was conveyed to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during his visit to the Arab country
  • Pakistan was previously required to pay the ‘aid loan’ from the Abu Dhabi Fund by April 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates has extended the repayment period of a $2 billion “aid loan” given to Pakistan from the Abu Dhabi Fund, said a statement issued by the foreign office of Pakistan on Tuesday.
The decision was conveyed to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi by his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a meeting in Abu Dhabi.
Qureshi thanked his host for the “goodwill gesture” and described it as a sign of growing bilateral relations between the two countries.


Pakistan sought financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after Prime Minister Imran Khan won the 2018 general elections.
The country faced a significant balance of payment crisis when the two Arab states came to its rescue and shored up its foreign currency reserves.
The UAE had earlier set April 19, 2021, as the payment deadline, though it decided to extend it for Pakistan’s further economic convenience.
During a wide-ranging discussion, Qureshi thanked the UAE foreign minister for supporting the Pakistani community and taking special care of its workforce during the coronavirus pandemic. 
He also discussed visas issues with his Emirati counterpart and invited him to pay an early visit to his country. 
This was Qureshi’s second visit to the United Arab Emirates during the last four months, said the foreign office, reflecting “the growing bilateral relations and high-level contacts between the two countries.”


Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engaged in Afghan peace process

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engaged in Afghan peace process

  • FM Qureshi says Taliban will take their own decisions but Pakistan will convince them engagement in their national interest
  • Says troop withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but Taliban should show flexibility towards new Sept. 11 deadline

ABU DHABI: Pakistan on Monday urged the Taliban to remain engaged in the Afghan peace process after the armed group said it would now shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave.

The decision was taken after the United States said last week it would withdraw all troops by Sept. 11 this year, later than a May 1 deadline set out by the previous administration.

"They take their own decisions but we will do whatever we can to convince them that it is in their national interest to remain engaged," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said of the Taliban in an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi.

The refusal has thrown the peace process into disarray with Turkey scheduled for Saturday to host a summit that diplomats had hoped could create new momentum towards a political settlement between the Taliban and Afghan government.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces, but they still control wide areas.

Qureshi said withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but that the Taliban had largely succeeded in their objective for foreign troops to withdraw and so should show flexibility towards the new Sept. 11 deadline.

"The troops will be out and a date has been given and the process starts on the 1st of May and goes on until the 11th of September so there is a definite time frame," Qureshi said.

Sources have told Reuters Pakistan was putting pressure on the militants to come back to the table.

Qureshi said he believed the Taliban would benefit from staying involved but said he had no contact with the group.

Pakistan, which helped facilitate U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha that resulted in the initial May 1 withdrawal deal, wields considerable influence with the Taliban.

The insurgents have sanctuaries in Pakistan, whose main military-run intelligence service gives them support, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. Pakistan denies the allegation.

Qureshi said he feared violence could escalate if the peace process remains deadlocked, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and leading to an exodus of Afghans.

Pakistan, which hosts close to 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, has built 90% of a fence along its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan and would hopefully be completed by September, he said.

He also said Pakistan was ready to engage in direct dialogue with arch-rival India once Jammu and Kashmir statehood was restored, which New Delhi in 2019 split into territories.

"We are two atomic powers that cannot, should not go into a direct conflict. It would be suicidal," Qureshi said.

But he said he had no plans to meet with his Indian counterpart who is also in the United Arab Emirates this week.

Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, sources have told Reuters


Pakistani PM to visit Saudi Arabia by end of Ramadan — aide

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistani PM to visit Saudi Arabia by end of Ramadan — aide

  • Khan spoke on the telephone with Saudi crown prince last month and accepted an invitation to visit the kingdom
  • Visit will involve discussions on economy, trade, religious affairs, tourism and climate change

ISLAMABAD: On the invitation of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan, Khan’s special adviser on religious harmony and the Middle East said on Monday.

Last month Khan spoke with the crown prince in a wide-ranging phone call and accepted an invitation to visit the kingdom “in the near future.”

“Prime Minister Imran Khan, on the invitation of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, will visit Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan,” Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi told Arab News. “All issues of bilateral relations will come under discussion during the visit, including cooperation in economy, trade, religious affairs, tourism and especially the green revolution. Prime minister will also perform Umrah during the visit.”

Ashrafi said a special focus of the visit would be to increasing Pakistani cooperation in the recently launched Saudi Green revolution project.

The crown prince last month called the leaders of Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, and Sudan to discuss a massive regional tree-planting project. The Saudi Green Initiative is part of the prince’s Vision 2030 plan to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and improve quality of life. The crown prince unveiled the ambitious campaign at the end of March that will see Saudi Arabia planting 10 billion trees in the coming decades and working with other Arab states to plant another 40 billion trees, reduce carbon emissions and combat pollution and land degradation.

“It is expected that big progress will be announced on the green revolution,” Ashrafi added. 

“Am delighted to learn of ‘Green Saudi Arabia’ & ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives by my brother, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman!” Khan had written on Twitter last month. “Have offered our support on these as there are many complementarities with our ‘Clean & Green Pakistan’ & ‘10 Billion-Tree Tsunami’.”

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