Pakistan braces for COVID-19 peak in late June

A Muslim worshiper arrives to attend noon prayers at a mosque, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, April 21, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 30 April 2020

Pakistan braces for COVID-19 peak in late June

  • Government designs special package for frontline health workers
  • Pakistan will partly lift transportation lockdown to facilitate movement ahead of Eid

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is likely to reach the peak of coronavirus infections around the end of June, Planning Minister Asad Umer announced on Wednesday.
"On the basis of available data from last two months and also after analyzing world data, we are expecting the peak of COVID-19 in Pakistan somewhere between the end of June and early July," the minister who heads the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) told reporters in Islamabad. 
NCOC is responsible for coordinating Pakistan's coronavirus response.
As the country has recently observed a sharp rise in known virus cases, the minister attributed it to Pakistan's increasing COVID-19 testing capacity, which he said had improved from around 2,000 to above 8,000 tests in the past two weeks.
"Right now, the number (of known cases) is above 15,000, but still this data is not conclusive as there may be many other people out there who have not been tested so far," he said, adding that with 26 deaths in the past 24 hours the country has witnessed the highest daily mortality rate, bringing the COVID-19 toll to 335.




Planning Minister Asad Umer and NCOC representatives participate in a media briefing on COVID-19 in Islamabad on April 29, 2020. (AN photo)

In its testing efforts, Pakistan relies on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which according to Umer are 70 percent accurate. Currently, 52 laboratories across the country test samples for the virus, Dr. Mirza, the prime minister's special assistant on public health, said during the same NCOC briefing.
Despite the rising numbers of cases, the Pakistani government is planning to partly lift its transportation lockdown to facilitate movement ahead of the Eid holidays next month.
"We are making very stringent SOPs for the opening of public transport as we have to open intercity and interprovincial bus services by the end of Ramadan to facilitate public to travel to their homes before Eid," Umer said.
NCOC consists of provincial and federal institutions as well as the military. Its standing committee is chaired by Dr. Mirza and it has all provincial health ministers as members. "Federal and provincial information ministries are also part of NCOC to help us spread relevant information," Umer said.
One of the main current problems in Pakistan's efforts to contain the outbreak is the safety of its medical workers. Dr. Mirza said a special scheme has been designed for them.
"We are focusing on the safety of health workers as 480 of them have contracted COVID-19, which is a cause of great concern for us. We have designed a protection and support program for frontline health workers and the federal cabinet has approved a special package for them," he said.


Boycott calls add to India-Pakistan cricket tensions ahead of World Cup clash in Dubai

Updated 20 October 2021

Boycott calls add to India-Pakistan cricket tensions ahead of World Cup clash in Dubai

  • India has largely refused to play bilateral games against Pakistan since 2008, after deadly attacks in Mumbai which it blamed on Pakistan
  • Indian atheletes say ‘sports and politics should not be mixed’ and the World Cup match between the two countries should go on

Dubai: Cricket tensions between India and Pakistan have been heightened by boycott calls in India ahead of their T20 World Cup clash on Sunday.
A series of killings in the disputed Kashmir region has set off the anger, even though the Indian board has insisted the national team cannot withdraw from the game.
Decades of bitter rivalry between the neighbors often clouds their cricket encounters. India has largely refused to play bilateral games against Pakistan since 2008, after deadly attacks in Mumbai which India blamed on Pakistan.
Now they only play each other in international events. The last meeting was at the 50-over World Cup two years ago but even that was at the center of boycott calls.
The killings of 11 migrant workers and minority Hindus and Sikhs in Indian-administered Kashmir have led to the latest demands made in India, which frequently accuses Pakistan of backing Kashmir militant groups. The hashtag #BlacklistPakistan was trending on Twitter Wednesday.
Rajeev Shukla, the Board of Control for Cricket in India vice president, said earlier that the country had a contractual obligation to take part.
“We strongly condemns the killings. However, under the International Cricket Council’s commitments, you can’t refuse to play any one (game),” Shukla told Indian media.
A cabinet minister, Giriraj Singh, had also urged the government to consider intervening to stop the match.
“I think if relations are not good, then this should be reconsidered,” Singh said when questioned about the match. Other politicians have also joined the calls.
However, India’s badminton great Prakash Padukone said, “sports and politics should not be mixed and according to me it (the India-Pakistan match) should go on.”
India was also urged to boycott the 2019 World Cup game against Pakistan because of a Kashmir suicide bomber attack in February of that year in which more than 40 troops were killed.
Pakistan denied any role in the assault but the two countries came to the brink of war. India won the game which went ahead in June 2019.
India and Pakistan last played a bilateral series in 2013 during a brief thaw in their rivalry.
The two countries have fought two wars over Kashmir — divided between the two nations — since their independence in 1947.


Bomb hits security vehicle in northwest Pakistan, killing four

Updated 20 October 2021

Bomb hits security vehicle in northwest Pakistan, killing four

  • The attack happened in Bajaur, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan
  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack, though suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban based in Afghanistan

PESHAWAR: A roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying security forces in a former stronghold of local militants in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing four, police said.
The attack happened in Bajaur, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The area served as a base for the Pakistani Taliban until a few years ago, when the army said it cleared the region of insurgents. But the violence has continued there.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack.
Senior police officer Abdul Samad Khan said two police officers and two soldiers were killed in the attack. He said troops launched a search operation in the region to find those who orchestrated the attack.
Khan refused to speculate on who could be behind the attack.
But suspicion fell on Pakistan’s own Taliban who have been emboldened by the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where thousands of Pakistani militants are still believed to be hiding.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century when the British dominated South Asia. Kabul has never recognized the boundary.
Before the the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan often accused each other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along the porous frontier.


At Moscow meet, Pakistan urges global powers to continue economic engagement with Afghanistan

Updated 20 October 2021

At Moscow meet, Pakistan urges global powers to continue economic engagement with Afghanistan

  • Ambassador Sadiq asks world to unfreeze Afghanistan assets to avert economic meltdown
  • Pakistan advocates enhanced cooperation with Afghanistan to address challenges such as global terrorism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday urged the international community to continue its economic engagements with Afghanistan to prevent another humanitarian disaster in the region, adding it was imperative in this context to unfreeze the Afghan financial assets parked in other countries.
Pakistan’s special representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq, highlighted the issue while addressing a major international conference in Moscow that brought together officials from various regional countries.
The international community froze nearly $10 billion of Afghanistan’s financial assets in other countries after the fall of Kabul on August 15 since the money was viewed as a key instrument to mount political pressure on the Taliban.
Sadiq said in a Twitter post on Wednesday he proposed three “broad contours of engagement with Afghanistan” while speaking at the Moscow forum.
These included “extending urgent humanitarian support to Afghanistan, to remain economically engaged to [avert] financial meltdown [by] de-freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign assets … [and] enhance cooperation [with Kabul] to address common challenges, such as combatting terrorism, trans-national crime and border management,” he wrote on the social media platform.


Sadiq said the “international community must not abandon Afghanistan at this critical juncture.”
Meanwhile, Russia stepped up pressure on the Taliban to create an inclusive administration during the conference which was also attended by China, Iran, India and Central Asian countries.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Reuters as saying that he regretted the US absence from the talks, the biggest international meeting on the region since the Taliban victory in August.
Russia previously said it was not a rush to recognize the Taliban, as officials in Moscow noted the former Afghan rebel faction should fulfil its political commitments on human rights and political inclusivity to the world at large.
The Taliban deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, told the forum that “isolating Afghanistan is in no one’s interest.”
He added the Taliban had moved as quickly as possible on opening up their government and guaranteeing rights to women, reported Reuters, while adding that the Afghan faction did not represent a threat to any other country.

 


‘I am not at peace,’ Noor Mukadam’s mother says at protest demonstration in Islamabad

Updated 20 October 2021

‘I am not at peace,’ Noor Mukadam’s mother says at protest demonstration in Islamabad

  • ‘Noor was also a woman and I’m a mother and a woman too,’ says Kausar Mukadam while reacting to the bail of Asmat Adamjee in the murder case
  • A district court judge snubs the prime suspect, Zahir Jaffer, for violating the court’s decorum by trying to speak during the proceedings

ISLAMABAD: Family and friends of Noor Mukadam, a 27-year-old woman who was brutally murdered on July 20 in Islamabad, urged the judiciary to deliver swift justice in the case on Wednesday as they demanded the killer to be hanged as soon as possible.
About a dozen of these protesters gathered in front of the Parliament House as they sought early justice for Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat Shaukat Mukadam, two days after the Supreme Court granted bail to Asmat Adamjee, the mother of the prime suspect, Zahir Jaffer, who, along with her husband, Zakir Jaffer, was arrested for allegedly abetting the crime.
Mukadam’s beheaded body was found at the Jaffer residence in Islamabad on July 20, after which their three household staff, namely Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel, were also arrested.
“I am not at peace. I can’t sleep,” Kausar Mukadam, the victim’s mother, said while speaking to the media outside the Parliament House. “You don’t know, my daughter was a center of attraction in our home. I keep looking for her in my home. We won’t be at peace until we get justice.”

Noor Mukadam's family and friends hold a protest demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 20, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Justice for Noor)

The participants of the gathering, including Mukadam’s parents, were carrying placards seeking swift justice in the case, though they also expressed confidence and trust in the judiciary.
“She [Noor Mukadam] was the youngest in our home, and we all used to treat her as a baby,” her mother said. “She was a soft spoken person who used to play with children.”
Discussing Asmat Adamjee’s bail which was granted to her for being a woman, she said: “Noor was also a woman, and I’m a mother and a woman too. I also deserve sympathy. I am hopeful the judiciary will give us justice.”
Kausar Mukadam maintained all suspects in the case were involved in the murder since none of them helped her daughter escape. “No one should get bail and they should be punished,” she said.

People seeking swift justice in the Noor Mukadam murder case hold placards during a protest demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 20, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Justice for Noor)

Shaukat Mukadam, the victim’s father, said his family would accept the courts’ verdicts in the case, though he added that people were “disappointed with the [Supreme Court bail] decision.”
“The murderer should be hanged as soon as possible,” he said.
Separately, a district and sessions judge Atta Rabbani recorded the statement of a police witness in the case and adjourned the hearing until October 27.
As per the directions of the Islamabad High Court, the district court is required to complete the murder trial within a period of eight weeks.


The judge also snubbed Zahir Jaffer during the proceedings for violating the court’s decorum by trying to speak during the hearing.
“Don’t interrupt the proceedings,” the judge remarked while ordering the police to keep the suspect quiet in the courtroom.
His mother, Adamjee, requested the court during the proceedings to allow her to live in the F-7 residence where the gruesome murder had taken place since she had to stay in the federal capital to attend all the court hearings.
“This is your home, you can live there,” the judge said while Adamjee’s lawyer requested the court to put it on record to avoid any legal complications.

 

 


Pakistani rupee hits all-time low against dollar amid uncertainty surrounding IMF talks

Updated 20 October 2021

Pakistani rupee hits all-time low against dollar amid uncertainty surrounding IMF talks

  • Separately, the stock market rebounded on Wednesday and posted 1.95 percent gains at closing
  • Pakistan and IMF are currently engaged in talks for release of $1 billion tranche of $6 billion bailout package

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national currency on Wednesday hit another historic low of Rs173.47 against the United State dollar (USD) amid uncertainty surrounding ongoing talks between officials from the IMF and Pakistan for the release of the latest tranche of a bailout package, traders and analysts said. 
In 2019, Pakistan reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy.
Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in a fresh round of talks for the release of a $1 billion tranche of the loan.
The central bank said the Pakistani rupee closed up by 0.40 percent at Rs173.47 against the greenback in the interbank market as compared to Rs172.78 at the close of last week. The currency also depreciated in the open market where it was trading at Rs174 for buying and Rs174.50 for selling against the greenback, according to the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP). 
“The open market is following the interbank market where Pak rupee is under pressure,” ECAP general secretary Zafar Parach said. 
“There are no more sellers in the open market due to the uncertain outcome of talks with the IMF and volumes have declined substantially,” Paracha added. “The daily trading volume in the open market has declined from around $100-around to $50-60 million.” 
Analysts said the rupee was under pressure in the interbank market due to increasing imports and a plunging current account deficit.
“The demand for import payments is still high which is pushing the demand for the greenback,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment, told Arab News. 
However, the stock market rebounded on Wednesday and posted 1.95 percent gains, or 45,499.46 points, at closing. 
“The market has now got an understanding that it cannot move the dollar,” Tariq said. “The dollar movement is not part and parcel of trade and there is no panic.”