Pakistan moves to curb coronavirus 'fake news' with new laws

In this file photo, Pakistani journalists wearing protective facemasks report outside the Aga Khan University Hospital where a patient of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has been admitted in Karachi on Feb. 26, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2020
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Pakistan moves to curb coronavirus 'fake news' with new laws

  • Government sets up committee to prepare new “legal framework” to tackle coronavirus-related misinformation
  • Rights activists fear the new laws will be used to choke freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister said on Thursday the government planned to introduce new laws to curb coronavirus misinformation on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities will use the additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
On Wednesday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with coronavirus-related “fake news” on social media platforms.
Islamabad has previously struggled to regulate online content mostly by blocking or asking social media companies to remove blasphemous material and other posts that violate the country’s religious and cultural norms and laws or hurt national security interests.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
“Is the government a fool?” the interior minister said to Arab News on Thursday when asked if the NCOC had set up the new committee on the pretext of curtailing free speech or criticism of the government’s coronavirus mitigation policies. “If somebody asks me to suppress social media, I’ll straightaway say that I can’t do it.”
However, he said, the government was resolved to find ways to prevent the flow of false information regarding the pandemic.
These efforts, rights activists say, would allow the government to use the pandemic as an “excuse” to suppress freedom of speech.
“Social media companies have themselves been taking down disinformation and propaganda regarding COVID-19 since such posts go against their community standards,” Usama Khilji, director of Pakistani digital rights group Bolo Bhi, told Arab News, urging the government to improve coordination with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook in order to have inaccurate information removed instead of enacting new “draconian rules.”
Last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued an advisory to local media houses instructing them not to air coronavirus-related content that was “not based on ground realities” and was likely to create “unnecessary panic.” 
The advisory was seen as a warning to critics of the government’s efforts to fight growing rates of infection.
“If the government wants to counter online disinformation, it can do it by releasing authentic information instead of coercing journalists and media houses,” Iqbal Khattak, who represents Reporters Without Borders in Pakistan, told Arab News. “It must immediately drop its plan to enact new social media rules since we already know its objective is to undermine freedom of expression.”


Pakistan’s commerce minister to visit China today for enhanced trade, export revenue

Updated 09 December 2023
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Pakistan’s commerce minister to visit China today for enhanced trade, export revenue

  • Dr. Gohar Ejaz says trade with China can help overcome the country some of its major economic crises
  • Pakistan exports $20 billion worth of goods from China only exporting $2 billion worth of products to it

KARACHI: Pakistan’s commerce minister is scheduled to leave for China on a three-day visit today, Sunday, with a high-profile business delegation to enhance the country’s exports and improve its revenues.
Pakistan has faced tough financial challenges in recent years and wants to strengthen its economy by seeking foreign investment and exploring various trade destinations.
Last year, the country’s export revenue stood at $39.42 billion, marking a 24.94 percent increase from 2021. Pakistan plans to increase this figure to $50 billion in five years while seeking achieve a $100 billion export target in the long term.
According to an official statement released on Saturday, the visit of the interim commerce minister, Dr. Gohar Ejaz, will be a follow-up to Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar’s travel to China in October this year.
“Pakistan has a huge volume of trade with China,” the minister said in a brief video message ahead of his visit. “Pakistan imports about $20 billion worth of goods from China, while only $2 billion worth of goods go to China.”
He said this trade balance needed to be fixed.
Dr. Ejaz also noted that China was an ideal destination for Pakistani exports, adding that enhanced trade with it could help the country overcome some major economic challenges.
“All the sufferings of Pakistan at present, including its current account deficit, can be addressed by trading with only one country,” he added.
The Pakistani delegation will hold several business-to-business meetings on the sidelines to explore trade and investment opportunities.
The delegation will explore agricultural, electronic vehicles, marble, cement, fertilizer, fruit and vegetables, home appliances, glass, and chemicals and textiles sectors during the visit.
Its members will also explore a major technology hub near Beijing which is also known as China’s Silicon Valley.


Ex-PM Sharif advocates improved relations with India, Afghanistan to boost Pakistan’s global standing

Updated 09 December 2023
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Ex-PM Sharif advocates improved relations with India, Afghanistan to boost Pakistan’s global standing

  • Nawaz Sharif faced criticism by his political rivals for trying to improve bilateral ties with India in previous tenures
  • His statement is viewed as significant since he is believed to be a strong candidate for the PM’s post after Feb. 8 polls

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday stressed the need to improve Pakistan’s relations with neighboring countries, including India and Afghanistan, to pursue more effective diplomacy on the world stage and raise the country’s international status.
The ex-premier’s statement comes amid Pakistan’s frosty bilateral relations with the neighboring states, particularly India and Afghanistan, over a spectrum of issues, including a protracted territorial dispute and cross-border militancy.
Pakistan severed diplomatic and economic ties with India in August 2019 after New Delhi stripped the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir of its special constitutional status. Its relationship with Kabul is also at the lowest ebb following a surge in suicide attacks in Pakistan which have been blamed on a militant network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership is believed to be operating from Afghanistan. These mounting tensions between the two neighbors have also led to the deportation of Afghan nationals from the country due to security reason.
In his past tenures as the prime minister, Sharif tried to improve Pakistan’s relations with its arch-rival and nuclear-armed neighbor, India, for which he also faced criticism from his political opponents. His recent statement is viewed as significant since he is widely believed to be seeking the position of prime minister in the wake of the next general elections slated for February 8.
“How is it possible to achieve global status if your neighbors are upset with you, or you with them,” he questioned while addressing the party’s parliamentary board meeting in Lahore.
“We have to mend our relations with India and Afghanistan,” he continued. “Strengthen them further with Iran and China.”
Sharif said the government should not just focus on economic obligations but display its performance in every sector.
He maintained the country had done quite well during his past tenures in all the fields, including defense and foreign affairs.
Referring to his decision in May 1998 to test nuclear weapons in response to India, he said his administration had bolstered the country’s security.
Sharif recalled that two Indian prime ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and Narendra Modi in 2015, had visited Pakistan during his past tenures.
“Did anyone visit before them,” he asked.
The ex-premier returned to Pakistan from London in October after ending a self-imposed exile of about four years to contest the upcoming polls. He will spearhead his party’s election campaign and contend for the top political office in Pakistan for the fourth time.


Pakistani court to announce verdict in Sara Inam murder case on December 14

Updated 09 December 2023
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Pakistani court to announce verdict in Sara Inam murder case on December 14

  • Inam, a Pakistani-Canadian, was killed, according to police, by her husband with dumbbells in September of last year
  • Her murder was reminiscent of a similar case in which 27-year-old Noor Mukadam was beheaded by a childhood friend

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court is expected to announce its verdict in the high-profile murder case of a 37-year-old economist, whose husband has been accused of killing her with dumbbells, on December 14 after reserving the judgment on Saturday.
Sara Inam, a Canadian national employed in Abu Dhabi, was murdered, according to police, by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at a suburban Islamabad residence last year on September 23.
Her father interacted with the media at the National Press Club in Islamabad on the first anniversary of her death, seeking expedited justice in the case.
“It has been a year,” Engineer Inam Rahim, her father, told journalists. “We were hoping this was going to take about six months since it was an open-and-shut case.”
Pakistan’s Geo News reported earlier today that a district and sessions court in the federal capital had reserved its verdict in the matter “which will be announced on December 14.”
According to Inam’s family, she got married to Amir of her own choice on July 18 in his hometown of Chakwal, with neither couple’s parents present.
Inam, who had only met Amir three times before their marriage, informed her parents of the relationship post-wedding.
Last year, her father said before the funeral that his daughter had been “trapped” into marriage by Amir who wanted to fleece her for money.
However, Amir pleaded innocent during the trial, claiming he had found Inam dead in the bathtub.
Inam’s case spotlighted thousands of incidents of violence against women every year in Pakistan, from rape and acid attacks to sexual assault, kidnappings and so-called honor killings.
Her murder was reminiscent of a similar case in July 2021 wherein 27-year-old Noor Mukadam was beheaded by a childhood friend in an upscale Islamabad neighborhood, drawing an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation.


Pakistan decries Security Council’s inability to demand Gaza cease-fire amid mounting Palestinian casualties

Updated 58 min 56 sec ago
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Pakistan decries Security Council’s inability to demand Gaza cease-fire amid mounting Palestinian casualties

  • Over 17,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of the war on October 7
  • Pakistan asks the United Nations to ‘end this inhuman war and protect the people of Gaza from genocide’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Saturday it was “deeply disappointed” by the United Nations Security Council’s failure to seek an end to Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive against the residents of Gaza amid a massive loss of human life in its latest session in New York.
The session was convened a day earlier after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked a rarely exercised power under Article 99 of the UN Charter, urging the Security Council to respond to the situation in the Palestinian enclave where over 17,000 people have been killed in two months.
The war began on October 7 after a surprise attack on Israel by Hamas led to nearly 1,200 casualties, with the group describing its action as a response to the deteriorating Palestinian condition under Israeli occupation.
The international community widely viewed Israel’s response as disproportionate since it resulted in the destruction of hospitals and residential neighborhoods and the killings of significant number of civilians, including women and children.
As the Security Council convened its special meeting to address the issue, the United States vetoed a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Palestinian territory.
“Pakistan is deeply disappointed that the UN Security Council has once again failed to call for a cease-fire in Gaza, even in the face of a human tragedy of epic proportions taking place there,” the foreign office said in a statement released in Islamabad. “Despite the invocation of Article-99 of the UN Charter by the Secretary-General and his warnings of humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, the Council has failed to perform its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security.”
The foreign office described the “collective punishment” endured by the besieged people of Gaza as unprecedented and unacceptable.
“Continuation of Israel’s campaign in occupied Palestine will prolong human suffering, with massive civilian casualties and forced displacement of millions of people,” it added. “It could also trigger a wider and more dangerous conflict. A heavy responsibility rests on all who have contributed to the prolongation of uninterrupted bombing of the people of Gaza.”
The official Pakistani statement emphasized the need for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire, adding: “We urge the UN Security Council to act now, end this inhuman war and protect the people of Gaza from genocide.”
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas also maintained earlier today that the United States was “responsible for the bloodshed” of children in the Gaza Strip.
A statement issued by the Palestinian Authority said: “The president has described the American position as aggressive and immoral, a flagrant violation of all humanitarian principles and values, and holds the United States responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinian children, women and elderly people in the Gaza Strip.”


Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan signs deal with China’s Gansu for transfer of high-mountain agriculture technology

Updated 09 December 2023
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Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan signs deal with China’s Gansu for transfer of high-mountain agriculture technology

  • Only one percent of land in the northern Pakistani region has been used for agriculture, according to the UNDP
  • Officials say the move will ensure food security by helping farmers increase production of wheat, maize and potato

GILGIT: The government in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region has signed an agreement with China’s Gansu province for the transfer of high-mountain agriculture technology and machinery to the mountainous region that will help local farmers increase their production of various crops, a GB agriculture official said on Saturday.

GB has not officially been part of Pakistan but forms part of the portion of disputed Kashmir that is administered by Pakistan. The region is Pakistan’s only land link to China and is at the heart of the $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure development plan. 

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the GB government and China’s Gansu province was signed on Friday during the visit of an eight member GB government delegation, led by GB Agriculture Minister Muhammad Anwar, to China’s Gansu province. 

The transfer of technology will modernize the GB agriculture sector and help local farmer increase production of wheat, maize, potato and buckwheat, according to officials. 

“The objective of the cooperation is to promote agriculture, food security, livestock and human development in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Khadim Hussain, a coordinator of the GB Economic Transformation Initiative who was also part of the delegation that visited Gansu, told Arab News. 

“From the Chinese side, Gansu province is the center of the Belt and Road Initiative and Gilgit-Baltistan is the gateway of CPEC. So, to improve communication between these two regions, the Chinese government will help the government of Gilgit-Baltistan for the development of agriculture, food security, and human and livestock development.”  

Hussain noted the geography and weather of China’s Gansu was quite similar to GB, which is home to five out of 14 world peaks above the height of 8,000 meters. 

However, only one percent of GB land has been used for agriculture, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the GB agriculture department. The rest of nearly 72,000 square kilometers of administrative territory consists of 52 percent rangelands, four percent forests, while the remaining portion has mountains and barren land. 

“Under this agreement, Gansu Agriculture and Mechanical Company will provide machinery to the [GB] agriculture department that could be used for sowing, harvesting and silage. The company will train local farmers in running the machines. They will also provide technical and vocational training to locals,” Hussain said.  

“The cooperation will be boosted in the future and R&D (research and development) in the field of agriculture, livestock and fisheries will also be strengthened with the help of China.” 

Ghulamullah Saqib, a deputy director at the GB agriculture department, described the move as a “good omen” for the region. 

“The commitment of Gansu province to uplift the agriculture sector by transferring technology to GB is a good omen and welcoming thing,” Saqib told Arab News.  

“Only two percent area of the whole GB is arable. Of which, farming is happening at only one percent and the rest one percent is facing a water crisis.”  

The official said only one percent of agricultural land was not enough for the region, which was why the government had been purchasing wheat from the Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation (PASSCO). 

“GB can produce food for its population for two months only and if we do not pay attention to the agriculture sector and modern farming, we will have to face famine in future,” Saqib said.  

“After this MoU, a ray of hope has emerged because it will help grow the agriculture sector in the region.”