ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said on Sunday it was investigating the authenticity of a report that has claimed the personal information of millions of Pakistani mobile users was being sold online.
On Friday, Dubai based information security company Rewterz claimed the private data of 115 million Pakistani mobile users was up for sale on the dark web with a price tag of $2.1 million.
“It is still a claim that data of 115 million Pakistani users has been breached but we are trying to verify the authenticity of the claim by someone on dark web,” Chairman PTA Major General (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa told Arab News, and said the authority had contacted all mobile operators.
“There are multiple reports we are receiving during our investigation as few claims are surfacing that it is old data,” Bajwa said and added that the authority would be able to get to the bottom of the matter in a week.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, Senator Rehman Malik has sought a report from the interior ministry on the matter of the data breach.
Pakistan’s Minister for Telecom, Syed Aminul Haque, said on Sunday the government is taking steps to ensure the safety of cyber data and working on new legislation for the country’s cybersecurity.
“The Information Technology (IT) and Telecommunication ministry along with other relevant departments will ensure safety and protection of private data of all the Pakistanis,” Haque told Arab News via telephone from Karachi.
The minister said the IT ministry had conducted “several meetings” to ensure the online data of Pakistanis was protected, and said the government was working on legislation for cyber data protection. He added it was the responsibility of the government to stop any such security breaches, as the information at hand was both sensitive and personal.
In April last year, Pakistan’s IT ministry had announced that a comprehensive cybersecurity policy would be introduced soon-- no policy has been announced so far.
And though the country has placed great importance on countering and policing the spread of content and information through special cyber laws in recent years, these have remained specific to cyber-crime and not cyber-security.
“Pakistan does not have any national cybersecurity policy and government should develop a cybersecurity policy on priority,” Ammar Jafri, former head of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) National Response Center for Cyber Crime wing told Arab News, and added that the risk of data breaches had increased due to an increase in online activities following pandemic-related lockdowns around the world.
Jafri was instrumental in drafting Pakistan’s first cybersecurity policy in 2012 which is still pending approval.
A senior FIA cyber wing official told Arab News on condition of anonymity that the matter has still not been referred to the agency so far.
“PTA is investigating the issue and it has not been referred to FIA from the concerned authorities so far,” he said.
“FIA will provide all its assistance when it will be assigned the task.”
KARACHI: Noor Jehan, one of four elephants at two facilities in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, has severe tusk infection and needs immediate surgery, a team of international veterinarians and wildlife experts said on Monday.
The Sindh High Court (SHC) in September granted permission to Dr. Frank Goritz, the head veterinarian at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), to visit Pakistan to inspect the health of four African elephants: Malika and Sonu at Karachi’s Safari Park, and Noor Jehan and Madhubala at the Karachi Zoo. The order was passed after animal rights activists moved the court following a viral video revealed cracks in Malika’s foot.
A team of veterinarians and wildlife experts from FOUR PAWS, a Vienna-based global animal welfare organization, also assessed the health of Malika and Sonu at Karachi’s Safari Park on Sunday.
On Monday, they examined Noor Jehan and Madhubala at the Karachi Zoo to finalize their assessment report, which will be submitted to the court on Tuesday. According to officials, these are the last four African elephants left in Pakistan.
“One of the elephants has severe tusk infections on both sides and needs to be operated on,” FOUR PAWS veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil told Arab News.
Dr. Khalil is leading the visiting team, which includes Dr. Frank Göritz and Prof Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibnitz Institute and Dr. Marina Ivanova from FOUR PAWS.
The developments come months after Kaavan, called the “world’s loneliest elephants,” was released from a ramshackle, now-closed zoo in Islamabad. Animal rights activists had campaigned against the plight of 35-year-old Kaavan, the last remaining Asian elephant in the country, who had lived alone since the death of his mate eight years earlier.
Kaavan was transferred to Cambodia late last year in a blaze of publicity after his plight caught the attention of US superstar Cher, who helped raise funds for the jumbo relocation.
On Monday, the team of experts took blood and urine samples and conducted a number of tests on the elephants.
In their report to be submitted to the court on Tuesday, the vets are expected to recommend a number of steps for the wellbeing of the animals, including medical treatment for 17-year-old female African elephant Noor Jehan.
Noor Jehan’s tusk is broken and needs serious and urgent medical attention by highly qualified vets. With regards to 16-year-old Madhubala, the team has observed that her menstrual cycles had not started though the usual age for a female elephant to start her cycles is 12 years.
“This is a clear sign of stress or malnutrition,” Dr. Khalil observed, recommending re-adjustment of her diet.
The Karachi Zoo elephants were living amid permanent noise because of traffic on nearby roads, while their enclosures lacked vast natural habitat and swimming facilities, the team has noted, recommending that they be shifted to the Safari Park or their present enclosure at Karachi Zoo be expanded and modified.
The team has also recommended training for the elephants and the staff that tends to them, and said the elephant shelter and swimming pool at the Safari Park could be expanded. The team has also stressed the need for capacity-building of staff taking care of the elephants.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday said it endorsed an initiative by Saudi Arabia to request an ‘extraordinary session’ of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) next month to assess the situation in Afghanistan.
Saudi Arabia, as chair of the Islamic Summit, has called upon the OIC to urgently convene an extraordinary ministerial-level meeting to discuss a growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan on December 17, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Monday.
Afghanistan has been plunged into crisis by the abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign assistance, following the collapse of the Western-backed government and return to power of the Taliban in August.
“Pakistan fully endorses this [Saudi] initiative, we have also offered to host a meeting in Islamabad on 17 December 2021,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in video message, adding that he hoped OIC member states would “endorse this offer.”
Pakistan endorses the initiative of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request an Extraordinary Session of @OIC_OCI CFM on 17 December to consider the situation in #Afghanistan.
Qureshi said Afghanistan was a founding member of the OIC and “today our Afghan brothers and sisters need us more than ever before.”
He added that Afghanistan was facing a “serious humanitarian situation,” with millions of Afghans including women and children faced with an uncertain future due to shortages of food, medicine, and other essential life supplies: “The advent of winter has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.”
“OIC must step-in to help our Afghan brethren. We should step-up our collective efforts to alleviate the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people, provide immediate and sustained support to them, and continue to remain engaged with them for the well-being and prosperity of Afghanistan,” Qureshi said.
UN agencies have also raised concerns that nearly 23 million Afghans are facing acute food shortages
Billions of dollars in international aid have dried up as the international community works out how to interact with the Taliban movement, while billions more in foreign currency reserves are locked up in vaults in the West.
The Taliban have called on members of the United States Congress to act to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets. Washington has seized nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank since the Taliban took power in mid-August this year.
Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan approved a humanitarian assistance package for Afghanistan and ordered the immediate shipment of humanitarian assistance worth Rs. 5 billion.
QUETTA: The chief minister of Balochistan, Mir Abdul Quddus Bezinjo, has said his government was speaking to all dissidents who were “unhappy” with the state, including reaching out to Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, the head of the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), as a step toward ending a long-running insurgency seeking greater autonomy or independence for the huge, resource-rich province.
The low-intensity insurgency in southwestern Balochistan, a sparsely populated, mountainous, desert province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, has gone on intermittently for decades, with the government launching full-scale military operations as well as targeted interventions to quell it. Locals and rights activists say hundreds of people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces hunting for dissidents. The military vehemently denies committing abuses. Separatist fighters have also been accused of killing civilians and security forces and assassinating teachers.
Critics of the central government complain the province, which makes up 43 percent of Pakistan’s land mass, has received paltry royalties on its vast mineral, oil and gas resources, while remaining one of the country’s poorest regions. Baloch nationalists, many Pakistani politicians and rights activists say the chronic instability in the province is a stubborn reminder of the broader fragility of the Pakistani state and have repeatedly called on the government to urgently deal with years of pent-up grievances.
Now, Balochistan’s new chief minister, who was elected unopposed last month, says his government is ready for the challenge, and is “taking everyone on board” to seek an end to the decades of violence.
“Absolutely, as soon as coming into power, we have focused on this,” Bezinjo told Arab News in an interview in Quetta when asked if his government was talking to separatists and other dissident groups. “Surely they have grievances because of which they have become unhappy, [so] the doors of dialogue should not be closed. We are talking to them, and lots of channels are also open.”
Among those the government was reaching out to is BLF chief Dr. Baloch, Bizenjo confirmed: “Not direct, but indirectly we are trying that we do this [talk to Dr. Baloch] and all the rest, whoever they are, we are trying that we talk to them.”
Dr. Baloch is the only leader of a sizeable separatist group who is believed to be waging a campaign for independence from inside Balochistan; the other two leaders are in exile in Europe, including Brahamdagh Bugti, the Switzerland-based leader of the Balochistan Republican Party, and Hyrbyair Marri, who lives in London and heads the Baloch Liberation Army. The three groups have for years launched attacks on civilians, journalists and government and security personnel.
Bezinjo said it would be premature to disclose “specifics” of the talks, but added: “Many personalities with whom we are in talks, we are hopeful that in a few months they will be in this country, and in this province … Very soon Balochistan’s people will get good news.”
Governments in the past have attempted, and failed, to win over dissidents and the prospects of success for Bezinjo’s campaign are bleak. But the need for peace is more urgent than ever before, especially in the last decade as China has turned its attention toward Balochistan’s wealth of copper, gold, gas and coal deposits and invested billions of dollars in the province.
Separatist militants have frequently targeted Chinese projects, including its construction in Gwadar, a port on the Balochistan coast, near the entrance to the strategically-important Gulf. And in 2018, the Balochistan Liberation Army attacked the Chinese consulate in the southern port city of Karachi, killing four Pakistani police and civilians.
It was the most high profile attack by the group until June 29 2020, when its fighters launched an assault on the stock exchange, killing four people.
That attack came a day after hundreds of relatives of missing Balochs gathered in Quetta to mark the four thousandth day of their protest against what they say are enforced disappearances by the state. The daily sit-in launched in 2009 entered its 4,509 day today, Monday.
The Pakistan military denies it is involved in enforced disappearances. In 2019, it issued a statement sympathizing with the families of missing Balochs and said that some may have joined militant groups: “Not every person missing is attributable to the state.”
But the issue of missing persons has continued to spark revolt in Balochistan and arrests and disappearances of alleged separatist sympathizers as well as political and student nationalist leaders have hardened attitudes, particularly among the young.
A federal commission on enforced disappearances set up in March 2011 listed 8,122 cases of missing persons reported nationwide by June 2021, of which 5,880 have been resolved. At least 500 people on the list are from Balochistan.
“We made a cell [in the Balochistan Home Department], it’s been one year and in that around 180 families have approached us,” the chief minister said. “We are investigating whether they are missing or not, but the numbers are not as large as they say.”
Speaking about the outsized role of the Pakistani military in the running of Balochistan, Bezinjo said there was no harm in governments in the province seeking help from the army, particularly against security threats.
“They are our forces, we feel no shame if they come to us [the government], and support us somewhere, in relation to law and order, and other issues,” the chief minister said. “Wherever we felt that we needed the forces, we needed to improve law and order, we certainly requested them, where we felt that we can’t work, the situation was untenable, there we took the army’s support … Sometimes they feel that some steps are needed for the betterment of Balochistan.”
Bezinjo also spoke about a rise in attacks on security forces in Balochistan in the last three months, and linked it to a change of government in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August.
The militant Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is separate from the Afghan Taliban, has stepped up its campaign against the Pakistani army and paramilitary forces in recent months.
“Whenever things change in Afghanistan, its effect is always seen in Balochistan,” Bezinjo said. “Because of change there [in Afghanistan] a lot of elements have come here [to Pakistan] and taken part in different kinds of terrorism. Things are in front of us, we can see for a few months that the law and order situation has deteriorated quickly.”
But Bezinjo was hopeful that new development schemes in the province would improve overall tensions, especially the announcement by the federal government of a “Southern Balochistan Project,” under which 199 projects worth Rs601 billion are to be executed.
Currently, Balochistan has the worst development indicators in the country, with over 50 percent people living below the poverty line and 92 percent of provincial districts classified as “highly deprived” by the United Nations.
“If these [Southern Balochistan] projects become functional on the ground in a timely fashion, then we are hopeful that Inshallah things will improve a lot and we will have a lot of support in the development sector,” Bezinjo said.
And while he lamented that past central governments had not paid due attention to Balochistan, he said the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking special interest in the province’s development.
“If the federal [government] does not give us proper space, proper development funds, then we can never develop Balochistan,” the chief minister said. “If they want to strengthen this pillar then they will have to enlarge their heart.”
KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency continued to lose its value against the US dollar and hit a new all-time low as the greenback closed at Rs176.20 on Monday.
The rupee has lost its value by 15.7 percent, or more than Rs24, since May this year, when the dollar was trading at around Rs152.
While analysts believe the rupee is weakening against the greenback due to a high demand for imports and an expectation of higher import bills for November 2021, currency dealers say the reasons for rupee’s depreciation were not clear, despite a decline in oil prices and the clearance of a Saudi financial package.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Monday formally signed an agreement under which the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) will deposit $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
In October, SFD announced a financial package of $4.2 billion to help the South Asian nation as it struggled with depleting foreign reserves. The package includes suppling $1.2 billion worth of oil to Pakistan on credit.
“The demand of dollar for imports is exerting pressure on Pakistani rupee besides it is expected that November import bill will be higher as well,” said Samiullah Tariq, research director at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company (PKIC).
Tariq said the flow of Saudi dollars into Pakistan would improve market sentiment despite an expected high demand for dollar for imports.
“The Saudi deposits will improve the sentiment of the market,” he said. “The deposit will increase the import coverage of the country for three months.”
But Zafar Paracha, general secretary of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP), said analysts were unable to comprehend why the dollar was appreciating in the interbank market, despite the clearance of the Saudi deposit facility and around 10 percent decline in oil prices.
On Monday, the rupee appreciated in the open market and the US dollar traded at Rs177.80 for selling and Rs177.30 for buying. The greenback traded at Rs179 for selling and Rs178 for buying the previous day.
“There is more supply of dollar than the demand in the open market,” Paracha said, explaining the rupee’s appreciation.
Pakistan’s equity market jubilated over the clearance of the Saudi deposit facility, with the benchmark KSE 100 index gaining 1215.89 points on Monday.
“Stocks closed record higher after reports that federal cabinet approved terms of $4.2 billion Saudi package,” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation said. “Strong economic outlook ahead of release of IMF tranche and surging exports, remittances and global crude oil prices played a catalyst role in the bullish close.”
Pakistan mob sets fire to police station over alleged Holy Quran desecration
Crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded police station in Charsadda town on Sunday night
On Monday morning, 2,000 people remained outside police station burning uniforms of officers
Updated 29 November 2021
PESHAWAR: Thousands of people mobbed a Pakistani police station, setting fire to it and nearby checkposts after demanding that officers hand over a man accused of burning the Holy Quran, police said Monday.
The crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded the police station in Charsadda town in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday night, also setting fire to more than 30 cars.
On Monday morning, around 2,000 people remained outside the police station burning uniforms of officers.
"The mob stormed the police station asking to hand over the man to them so they could burn him alive like he burnt the Holy Quran," district police chief, Asif Bahadur told AFP.
The identity and religion of the accused has not been disclosed by police, Bahadur said.
"The motive behind burning the copy of the Holy Quran is still unknown but we are investigating."
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.
Rights groups say the legislation is often hijacked for personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
A Christian couple was lynched then burnt in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Holy Quran. A former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in Islamabad in 2011 over his call for reforms of the blasphemy law.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman and a labourer from central Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal in 2018, which prompted days of violent demonstrations by hardliners. She and her family later fled the country for Canada.
The country has frequently been paralysed in recent years by anti-blasphemy protests waged by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, often linked to the publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) by a French satirical magazine.