Muslims bemoan Colombo’s refusal to allow meeting with Pakistani PM 

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan meets with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. (Photo Courtesy: Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Muslims bemoan Colombo’s refusal to allow meeting with Pakistani PM 

  • PM Khan, Sri Lankan counterpart witness signing of accords in the fields of tourism, investment, education and technology
  • Pakistani experts advice Khan not to interfere in internal conflicts in Sri Lanka, remain within framework of bilateral issues 

COLOMBO/ISLAMABAD: The leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress said on Tuesday the government of the island nation had cited security reasons to reject a request by 15 Muslim parliamentarians to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan during his two-day official visit to Colombo. 
Khan arrived in Colombo on Tuesday afternoon where he was received by prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Bandaranaike International Airport. 
Khan had extensive consultations with his Sri Lankan counterpart at Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence, soon after his arrival in Colombo. The one-on-one meeting between the two PMs was followed by delegation-level talks between the two sides. 
The two leaders witnessed the signing ceremony of “important MOUs on cooperation in the fields of tourism, investment, education, and technology,” the Pakistani PM’s office said in a statement. 

“The two leaders held wide-ranging discussions with a focus on reinforcing a broad-based and enduring partnership between Pakistan and Sri Lanka to advance the shared objectives of peace, stability and economic prosperity in South Asia,” the PM’s office said, adding that “security and defense cooperation” was also discussed. 
“The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of resolving disputes through dialogue and promoting the vision of peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia and beyond,” the statement added. 
Meanwhile, Rauf Hakeem, former minister and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, told Arab News a group of 15 Muslim MPs from different political parties sent a written request through the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo to meet the visiting prime minister, “but unfortunately the government has turned down our request citing security reasons.”
He was speaking during a protest held by the Muslim community near the Shangri La Hotel, where Premier Khan will be staying overnight in the Sri Lankan capital. 
Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The community’s representatives say they have been receiving complaints of discrimination from across the country, especially since Easter Sunday attacks 2019, when reportedly Daesh-inspired militants killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the country in Easter Sunday attacks in 2019.
In recent years, Buddhist hard-liners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force,” have stoked hostility against Muslims. 
As Khan landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport, more than 1,000 men and women gathered near the Shangri La Hotel to protest their government’s refusal to let their leaders meet Khan. 
“We wanted to tell the great Muslim leader and sportive Khan about the travails of the Muslim community; about the denial of the basic Islamic rites of cremating the remains of the Covid-19 infected,” Hakeem said, speaking about what has become a rallying cry for the island’s Muslims: The Sri Lankan government’s refusal to let them bury their dead according to Islamic rituals. 
In April last year, Sri Lanka made it mandatory that people dying of the coronavirus be cremated, causing anxiety and protests among the Muslim community, which traditionally buries its dead. On February 9 this year, Rajapaksa told parliament his government would allow the burial of people who had coronavirus. However, a gazette notification to annul the previous order has yet to be issued. 
Former minister and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rishath Bathiudeen, told Arab News on Tuesday that the Muslim community had been traumatized due to the cremation order. 
“More than 180 countries are burying such Covid-19 infected bodies and the requests to Lankan government from international organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Conference(OIC) and human rights bodies have fallen on deaf ears,” he said. 
Parliamentarian Mujibur Rahman said the community continued to suffer: “People are not afraid of death but they are afraid of cremation.” 

But international affairs expert Zafar Jaspal warned against Pakistan looking at the Colombo trip as anything more than a bilateral visit or making it about the Muslim Unmah. 
“Khan is there to represent Pakistan and not the Muslim Ummah. There is a majority of Sinhali people in Sri Lanka and being the Buddist they have problems with Muslims for quite some time now,” he said. “Pakistan has always supported Sinhali leadership in Sri Lanka. It is in our best interest that we should not enter into the internal conflict of Sri Lanka and try to remain within the framework of the bilateral issues.” 
Former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar concurred: “Pakistan and Sri Lanka have very historic and good relations. We played a very pivotal role in their victory against Tamil insurgency. Now we should not put our friends in trouble by indulging in any other issue than bilateral relations.”


By-poll in Punjab constituency declared null and void, reelection on March 18

Updated 25 February 2021

By-poll in Punjab constituency declared null and void, reelection on March 18

  • Last week's electoral contest for a National Assembly constituency in Daska was marred by violence and irregularities
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan said in a statement results of 20 polling stations had been falsified

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday declared a recent by-election in a National Assembly constituency of Punjab null and void while announcing reelection on March 18, local media reported.
Last week's electoral contest for NA-75 in Daska, a small town in Sialkot district, became controversial after two people were killed and three injured in clashes between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) opposition faction.
The constituency fell vacant after a PML-N lawmaker Syed Iftikharul Hassan Shah died last year.
Nine candidates were in the race for the National Assembly seat, though the real contest was thought to be between PML-N's Nousheen Iftikhar Shah and PTI's Ali Asjad Malhi.
The two parties accused each other of generating violence to manipulate the by-poll.
The PML-N accused its rival faction of intimidating voters and trying to manipulate the election results by influencing the election commission staff.
The ECP also issued a statement the following day, saying that results of 20 polling stations had seemingly been falsified in Daska.
The statement maintained it was not possible to release the initial outcome of the election without a complete inquiry.
The election commission also informed the results of NA-75 were received with "unnecessary delay," adding that it had tried to communicate with presiding officers several times with no success.
Other than that, the ECP suspected that the situation in Daska owed to the weakness of administrative and law enforcement agencies.
On Thursday, the PML-N candidate for the said National Assembly constituency, Nausheen Iftikhar, described the ECP verdict as a "historic decision."
Reacting to the development, information minister Shibli Faraz said that his party's legal team would review the short order and determine PTI's future course of action.
He added that the government had promised to give the country independent institutions "unlike previous administrations," implying that the ECP decision had signified that the PTI leadership had delivered on its commitment.


India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

Updated 25 February 2021

India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

  • Such exchange of gunfire has been frequent in recent months on the disputed border
  • Military operational heads of the two countries spoke over telephone, agreed to discuss each other’s concerns

NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan’s militaries said on Thursday that they had agreed to stop firing along their disputed border in Kashmir, where such gunfire has been frequent in recent months, often killing or maiming people living in the area.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” a joint statement said, referring to the military operations heads of the two countries.
The nuclear-armed neighbors signed a cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border in the Kashmir region — in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years.
An official in New Delhi said the cessation was partly aimed at easing the fraught situation for civilians living along the border, who are regularly caught in the crossfire.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the violence levels and tensions along the LoC will come down,” the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But India will not ease up on deployments along the LoC that aim to stop infiltration or counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, the official said.
Last summer, Indian and Pakistani troops were locked in their most frequent cross-border fighting in at least two years, amid surging coronavirus outbreaks.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the neighbors, but tension was renewed after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of the Himalayan region last August and split it into federally administered territories.
Both countries claim the region in full, but rule only parts.


Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

Updated 25 February 2021

Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

  • Despite childhood polio, Amjad Ali is Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball
  • But for years now, security reasons and now the coronavirus have kept Ali from fulfilling his dream of watching his favorite team play in a stadium

KARACHI: Amjad Ali has been a fighter all his life: despite losing control of his legs after childhood polio, he was able to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful wheelchair athlete.
But one dream keeps eluding him. For six years now, one reason or another — ‘home’ matches played abroad for years due to security risks and now limited spectators allowed at stadiums because of the coronavirus — has kept him from being able to watch his favorite cricket team play in a stadium.
Ali, a resident of Karachi, is a diehard fan of Peshawar Zalmi, one of the teams playing in Pakistan’s hugely popular Super League cricket tournament. It represents the city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — Ali’s home province.
The inaugural national cricket league was launched in 2016 and has been a spectacular success, even though many of the matches in the first five editions had to be played in the United Arab Emirates due to security risks, preventing fans like Ali from attending.

Amjad Ali teaches children from his neighborhood in Farid Colony, Karachi, Pakistan, on February 24, 2021. (AN photo)

Last year, however, all matches of the series were played in Pakistan for the first time, and an overjoyed Ali bought a ticket to see Peshawar play against the Multan Sultans. But he never made it to the stadium on that March 13: the coronavirus pandemic broke out in February and lockdown restrictions were imposed, including a ban on spectators at stadiums.
This year again, Ali said, with only 50% spectator capacity allowed at stadiums due to the coronavirus, getting his hands on a ticket was no easy task.
“Last year, I had purchased a ticket to watch the match of my favorite Peshawar Zalmi but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ali told Arab News. “This time around, the government has allowed [limited] crowds only which has made obtaining tickets difficult.”

A digital poster made by Amjad Ali, a Peshawar Zalmi supporter, for the 2021 edition of the Pakistan Super League. (Photo courtesy: Amjad Ali)

Ali was born in Shangla, a hilly district in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and now lives in a sprawling slum neighborhood in the seaside metropolis of Karachi. He was only one years old when he contracted polio and never walked.
But disability did not dampen his dream to become a sportsman: he is now Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball. He also works as an accountant at a school during the day and teaches neighborhood children in the evenings.
“I have struggled a lot in my life and have become a sportsman despite my disability,” Ali said, adding that his favorite player was Darren Sammy, a Saint Lucian-Pakistani cricketer who played international cricket for the West Indies. “I see a fighter in him.”
He hopes to one day meet Sammy as well as Pakistani players Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Haider Ali.
“Now coronavirus is a hurdle between me and Peshawar Zalmi,” Ali said. “But I believe, God willing, one day we will defeat coronavirus and I will be able to meet Peshawar Zalmi players.”


Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

  • Time limits on commercial activities lifted and indoor dining allowed from March 15
  • 50% spectators allowed at Pakistan Super League pool matches, full attendance at semifinals and final 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan this week announced it would ease a number of coronavirus restrictions, including lifting time limits on commercial activities, allowing indoor dining at restaurants from March 15 and restarting regular five-day classes at schools from March 1.
Pakistan recorded 1,361 news cases on Thursday, taking the total number of COVID-19 infections to 575,941, with 12,772 deaths.
Education minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Thursday regular classes would restart at schools from March 1.
“Important announcement. All schools will go back to regular 5 day classes from Monday March 1,” he said on Twitter. “Restrictions imposed in some major cities on schools to conduct staggered classes was only till Feb 28.”


The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had devised new rules after a “comprehensive review” of the coronavirus situation.
“Time-limit lifted from commercial activities and amusement parks, condition of 50% work from home removed,” NCOC said. “Indoor wedding ceremonies will be allowed from 15th March 21 … Indoor dining allowed from 15th March subject to the review on 10th March.”
The NCOC also allowed cinemas and shrines to reopen from March 15, with coronavirus guidelines in place.
“Wearing of mask, social distancing, smart lockdowns will continue and will be ensured,” the body said.
It said Pakistan Super League pool matches would be allowed with 50% spectators while “full attendance” would be permitted at semifinals and the final match of the tournament.
The NCOC added that these rules could be reviewed and revised whenever necessary.


$316 mln inflows in Roshan Digital Accounts from Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, UAE 

Updated 25 February 2021

$316 mln inflows in Roshan Digital Accounts from Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, UAE 

  • Roshan Digital Accounts enable overseas Pakistanis to open bank account online from anywhere outside Pakistan without visiting branch 
  • Since initiative’s launch in Sept 2020, overseas Pakistanis have opened 92,500 accounts and remitted $554 million 

KARACHI: Pakistan has received $554 in five months from Roshan Digital Accounts, a banking initiative for non-resident Pakistanis launched last year, with 57 percent of the remittances, or $316 million, coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the central bank has said.
A Roshan Digital Account (RDA) enables overseas Pakistanis to open a bank account online from anywhere outside Pakistan without visiting a branch and permits account holders to send money into the account. Account holders can perform transactions like funds transfer and bill payment via online banking, debit card or cheque books. Online banking is available for all RDA customers.
Since the initiative’s launch in September 2020, overseas Pakistanis have opened 92,500 accounts and remitted $554 million. Thirty four percent of the accounts were opened by Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia and 24 percent by UAE residents, according to a presentation given by the central bank on Wednesday.
“Out of $554 million put into Roshan Digital Accounts, 22% funds were received from Saudi Arabia and 35% from Pakistani living in UAE,” Syed Irfan Ali, Managing Director of Deposit Protection Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Bank of Pakistan, said at a ceremony to mark Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) joining the RDA initiative.
Roshan Digital Account services were being offered by nine banks including Saudi Samba Bank. Dubai Islamic Bank, the world’s first Islamic bank, is the tenth to join.
“Our existing customer base of over 200,000 in UAE gives us an all-important advantage to capture the potential for Roshan Digital Accounts,” DIB CEO Junaid Ahmed said at the joining ceremony in Karachi. “Moreover, non-resident Pakistanis working in UAE will also benefit from this product. Our focus is on a seamless experience and prompt response time for the customers.”
Roshan Digital Accounts enable overseas Pakistanis to deposit and invest in Pakistan. They also offer an additional financial instrument, Naya Pakistan Certificates (NPCs), through which overseas Pakistanis can invest in USD and Pakistani currency with returns of 75% and 11% on five years maturity.
NPCs offer attractive risk-free returns over different maturities and are available in both conventional and Shariah compliant versions administered by the central bank. So far, central bank officials say overseas Pakistanis have invested $358 through NPCs.