Pakistan government confirms accepting all demands of protesting religious party

Truck drivers stand as workers remove a shipping container in front of the French consulate at the end of an anti-France demonstration by religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), in Islamabad on Nov. 17, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 November 2020

Pakistan government confirms accepting all demands of protesting religious party

  • The demands include expelling the French ambassador from Pakistan after parliamentary approval, government says will implement parliament's decision
  • Government has also agreed not to appoint new envoy to Paris, boycott all French goods officially, release arrested supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s minister for religious affairs Pir Noor ul Haq Qadri confirmed on Tuesday an agreement between the government and a radical religious party, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), saying a decision to expel the French ambassador from Pakistan as demanded by TLP would be taken by parliament and the government would implement whatever the assemblies decided. 

Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, which led thousands of protesters to Islamabad for a sit-in on Sunday, released a copy of an agreement with the government on Monday night, saying it was calling off its protest after the government had agreed to meet all its demands, including that it would expel the French ambassador from Pakistan within three months.

“The decision regarding French ambassador in Pakistan will be taken by parliament as it is the biggest forum and voice of the people,” Qadri told Arab News. “The decision of the parliament will be implemented by the government.”

The Pakistani foreign office and the French embassy in Islamabad could not be reached for comment. 

The TLP-led protesters arrived on the outskirts of Islamabad on Sunday night, calling for the government to end diplomatic ties with France against the printing of images depicting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Muslims around the world have protested against France and President Emmanuel Macron, who has vowed to stand firm against what he has described as attacks on French values and freedom of expression by radicals.

TLP said the three other demands met by the government were that Pakistan would not appoint a new ambassador to France, it would work to boycott all French goods at the official level and also release all arrested supporters of the TLP.

“We don’t have any ambassador in France at the moment and have decided that we will not send one soon,” Qadri said. 

On boycotting French goods officially, Qadri said many Pakistani businesses had already shunned them in their personal capacity. 

“Now the government has decided to talk to all chambers of commerce across the country for boycott of French products at the national level,” he said, adding that the government had also released all arrested members of TLP as per Monday night’s agreement. 

The interior ministry issued a notification on Monday ordering the release of all TLP supporters arrested during the past two days. At least 400 people were arrested just in Rawalpindi on Sunday, Geo News reported.

Talks between the government and the protest leaders were ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the religious affairs ministry said.

On Sunday, police fired teargas on stone-pelting protesters in clashes in which dozens of policemen and protesters were injured, Dawn newspaper said.

The protesters, who numbered in the thousands, had sent up camp at the Faizabad Interchange, which connects major highways between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Rawalpindi’s 24 entry points were sealed with shipping containers and as many as 16 entry points into Islamabad also blocked. There was no mobile phone service in Rawalpindi and Islamabad since late Saturday night and all through the day on Sunday.

The TLP had vowed it would continue its protests until Islamabad announced cutting all diplomatic and economic ties with Paris.


Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

Updated 29 July 2021

Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

  • The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring
  • Taliban are charging drivers about $1,000 as duty in Spin Boldak with Kandahar officials demanding more 

Chaman, Pakistan: The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring, with insurgents and government officials separately taxing traders, and bandits demanding bribes to allow safe passage of goods.
Thousands of vehicles cross daily from Chaman in southwestern Pakistan to Spin Boldak on the other side, carrying goods destined for Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city.
On the way back they usually ferry agricultural produce bound for Pakistan’s markets or ports.
The bilateral trade — worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if not more — ground to a halt earlier this month after the Taliban seized the dusty border town, but resumed this week with the insurgents seemingly firmly in charge.
They have captured a vast swath of the country since early May after launching a series of offensives to capitalize on the final stages of the withdrawal of foreign troops.
While they have not yet taken any provincial capitals, they have captured a string of key border posts — with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan — which provide vital revenue from customs duties on goods arriving in the landlocked country.
“We loaded grapes in Kandahar and on the way we have been extorted at least three times,” trucker Hidayatullah Khan told AFP at Chaman.
“Sometimes they charge 3,000 rupees ($20), somewhere else 2,000 rupees, and in some other place 1,000 rupees,” he said.
That was on top of the taxes he had to pay Taliban officials in Spin Boldak and Afghan government customs officials who have opened shop in Kandahar.
Truckers interviewed in Chaman this week told of chaos and confusion on the Afghan side of the border.
Imran Kakar, vice president of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce, gave one example of a truck carrying fabric from Karachi destined for Kandahar.
The Taliban charged the driver 150,000 rupees (about $1,000) as duty in Spin Boldak, but when the vehicle reached Kandahar government officials were also waiting.
“We had to pay even higher customs duties as they don’t acknowledge the payments made to Taliban,” said Kakar.
The scenes were reminiscent of Afghanistan during its brutal civil war in the 1990s, when a patchwork of militias held stretches of key trade routes and extorted truckers and residents using the roads at will.
Hundreds of trucks were lined up Wednesday on the Pakistan side of the border, waiting for permission to cross.
On a dusty plain this week, with rugged hillocks as a backdrop, drivers and “spanner boy” apprentices tinkered with their vehicles ahead of the journey.
While the distance is just 100 kilometers (60 miles), the journey is fraught with danger.
Vehicles and roads are poorly maintained in Afghanistan, police and army checkpoints routinely demand “tea money” or more from every driver, and bandits also lie in wait — either to steal goods or demand further payment for safe passage.
There is also the risk they could be caught in crossfire during fighting between the Taliban and government forces.
Still, traders and drivers say they have little option but to keep on trucking.
“War has been going on, we know that, but we don’t have any other choice,” said Abdul Razzaq, a driver carrying hatchling chicks to Kandahar.
“Transportation of goods is the only means for us to feed our families,” he told AFP.


UAE suspends flights from Pakistan, India until August 7

Updated 29 July 2021

UAE suspends flights from Pakistan, India until August 7

  • Flights to Pakistan from the UAE have been suspended for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic 
  • UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistanis and ranked one of Pakistan’s top contributors of foreign remittances

ISLAMABAD: Emirates, the largest airline and the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, said on Wednesday flights from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had been suspended until August 7 in line with the government’s orders.
The UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistanis and ranked one of Pakistan’s top contributors, alongside Saudi Arabia, of foreign remittances. Flights to Pakistan from the Emirates have been disrupted for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic. The date for resumption of travel has also been extended several times now.
“In line with UAE government directives, Emirates will be suspending the carriage of passengers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Dubai until 07 August 2021,” the airline said on its website. “Furthermore, passengers who have connected through India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka in the last 14 days will not be accepted to travel from any other point to the UAE.”
UAE Nationals, holders of UAE Golden Visas and members of diplomatic missions who comply with updated COVID‑19 protocols, are exempt and may be accepted for travel, the airline said. 
It advised travelers that if their flight had been canceled or impacted by route suspensions due to COVID‑19 restrictions, “you don’t need to call us immediately for rebooking. You can simply hold on to your Emirates ticket and when flights resume, get in touch with us or your booking office to make new travel plans.”


‘Alarming’ surge: Pakistan reports over 4,000 new COVID-19 infections second day running

Updated 29 July 2021

‘Alarming’ surge: Pakistan reports over 4,000 new COVID-19 infections second day running

  • Thursday was first time since June 9 that Pakistan recorded 76 new deaths due to coronavirus
  • “Alarming and critical” situation in Karachi city as positivity ratio crosses 26 percent

KARACHI: Pakistan reported more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day running, data from the National Command and Operation Center showed on Thursday, with the national positivity rate shooting past 7.5 percent.
As per the NCOC pandemic response body, 59,707 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours, of which 4,497 returned positive. The new cases take the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,020,324, with a current positivity rate of 7.53 percent.


Thursday was also the first time since June 9 that Pakistan recorded 76 new deaths due to the coronavirus, taking the countrywide death toll to 23,209. Around 28 million vaccine jabs have been administered so far in a country of 220 million people.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s southern Sindh province is witnessing an “abnormal” surge in COVID-19 cases and an “alarming and critical” situation as the positivity ratio in the city shot past 26 percent.
Pakistan’s director general health, Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, told Arab News the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), which oversees the country’s pandemic response, was closely working with the Sindh administration to stop the spread of the virus.
“The NCOC is working closely with the Sindh government to support the NPI [non-pharmacological interventions] implementation, vaccination ramp up and upbuilding hospital capacity,” Safdar said.
The infection rate in Karachi has consistently remained high, with 8,513 coronavirus cases recorded during the last week and an average daily positivity rate of 21.73 percent.
Secretary General of the Pakistan Medical Association Dr. Qaiser Sajjad has suggested imposing a 15-day lockdown in the metropolis, saying if untested people were counted, the positivity rate had likely reached 40 percent.


Pakistanis sacrificed animals worth around $2.5 billion on Eid Al-Adha, tanners say 

Updated 29 July 2021

Pakistanis sacrificed animals worth around $2.5 billion on Eid Al-Adha, tanners say 

  • Up to 9 million animals including cows, sheep, goats and camels, were slaughtered this Eid 
  • Number of sacrifices on the rise since last year as people unable to go to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage

KARACHI: Pakistanis sacrificed around nine million animals worth $2.5 billion on the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha last week, tanners and leather exporters have said, at least a one-billion-dollar increase from last year.
Eid Al-Adha, the second most important festival of Islam, was observed in Pakistan last Wednesday. Muslims traditionally mark the occasion by sacrificing livestock and distributing the meat among friends, family and the poor.
In Pakistan, the number of sacrificial animals has been on the rise since last year as people have been unable to go to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage due to coronavirus restrictions and have thus offered the ritual sacrifice in their home country.
Last year, the worth of sacrificial animals was estimated to be $1.5 billion.
“We estimate that around eight million to nine million animals including cows, sheep, goats and camels, were slaughtered on this Eid Al-Adha,” Abdul Salam, senior vice-chairman of the Pakistan Tanners Association (PTA), told Arab News. “Large number of Pakistanis who were unable to go for Hajj have offered the sacrifice rituals here in the country ... Sacrifices are more than our estimate of six million to seven million for this year.”
M. Danish Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Leather Garments Manufacturers and exporters Association (PLGMEA), told Arab News Rs400 billion ($2.5 billion) worth of animals were slaughtered this year. No official data was available.
“This growth is due to the restrictions on travel for Hajj,” Khan said.
Former PTA chairman Ejaz Ahmed Sheikh, who is chairman of leather supplier Bombal Leathers, said while exact figures were as yet unavailable, the overall value of sacrificial animals could be even higher than tanners’ estimates.
“It is estimated that around 3-4 million cows were slaughtered this year,” he told Arab News. “So, keeping average price at Rs 100,000, the overall value goes up to Rs300 billion, while if we add the value of goats, sheep, and camels, the value exceeds Rs400 billion.”
The rate of waste has also been higher this year, with data from the Lahore branch of PTA showing that Rs2 billion worth of hides and skins was wasted. 
PLGME’s chief Khan said material wastage was an annual problem.
“Huge quantities of hides and skins are wasted every year due to lack of proper facilities required to preserve the material,” he said.
Skins and hides from sacrificial animals are usually collected by Islamic seminaries and welfare organizations which sell them to leather exporters and tanners to meet their financial expenditures.
Qazi Sadaruddin, director at the Al-Khidmat Foundation, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian services across Pakistan, told Arab News the collection of skins, as well as their rates, had increased this year.
“The rates are comparatively higher this year and the collection of skins and hides has also increased,” he said.
Eid Al-Adha contributes around 20-30 percent of raw material to Pakistan’s leather industry, which PLGME expects will cross the $1 billion mark this year. In the previous fiscal year 2020-21, the leather sector contributed $833 million to Pakistan’s overall exports of $25.3 billion.
“Despite COVID-19, Pakistan’s export sector has performed very well during the last fiscal year,” PLGME’s Khan said. “We hope that this year Pakistan’s leather exports will hit the $1 billion mark”.


Pakistan invites Bahrain to invest in CPEC projects

Updated 29 July 2021

Pakistan invites Bahrain to invest in CPEC projects

  • Pakistani foreign minister co-chairs second session of Pakistan-Bahrain Joint Ministerial Commission
  • Five other Gulf countries have pledged to develop Pakistan’s deep-water Gwadar port under CPEC

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has invited the leadership of Bahrain to invest in development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as he started his two-day visit to the Gulf state on Wednesday.
Qureshi arrived in Manama to co-chair the second session of the Pakistan-Bahrain Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC), the inaugural meeting of which was held in Islamabad in February 2017. His visit to Bahrain would, the foreign office said, “add to the current momentum and positive trajectory of brotherly ties between the two countries.”
While addressing the JMC, Qureshi said CPEC offered opportunities in which Pakistan wanted to cooperate with Bahrain and other Gulf countries.
“There are great business and investment opportunities in Pakistan, especially under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” the foreign minister was quoted by the Pakistani foreign office as saying. “In this regard, we look forward to working closely with the Kingdom of Bahrain and other GCC countries.”
CPEC has seen Beijing pledge over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond. The investment plan also aims to link western China to the southern Pakistani port of Gwadar.
Last month, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar were among nations that pledged to support the development of the deep-water seaport.
The foreign office said the JMC meeting would focus on bilateral cooperation in commerce, investment, energy, overseas employment, agriculture, and broadcasting.
Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Bahrain in December 2019 on the invitation of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and was decorated with Bahrain’s prestigious King Hamad Order of the Renaissance award.