Pakistan raises ‘factually incorrect’ Iranian allegations of oil smuggler shooting with embassy

Pakistani soldiers wearing facemasks patrol near the closed Pakistan-Iran border in Taftan on February 25, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 27 February 2021

Pakistan raises ‘factually incorrect’ Iranian allegations of oil smuggler shooting with embassy

  • Deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchistan province accused Pakistani forces of firing at gathering of fuel smugglers near the border
  • Human Rights Watch blames the incident on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, urges Tehran to conduct a transparent inquiry

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani foreign office on Friday said it had taken up with the Iranian embassy in Islamabad a statement by an Iranian official accusing Pakistani security forces of shooting at oil smugglers earlier this week and said the allegation was “factually incorrect.” 
According to Human Rights Watch, the incident took place on Monday near the Iranian town of Saravan, killing 10 people and injuring five.
Following the development, Iran’s deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchistan province, Mohammad Hadi Marashi, accused Pakistani forces of opening fire at a gathering of fuel smugglers near the border who, he claimed, were trying to cross back into Iran.
“We are aware of the statement, which is factually incorrect,” foreign office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri told media during a press briefing in Islamabad. 
“We have taken up the matter with the Iranian embassy [in Islamabad] about the statement made by the deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran.”
“The incident occurred on the Iranian side of the border,” he said.
Pakistan has set aside nearly $20 million to fence its 900-kilometer border with Iran, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. But the border is also the entry point for cross-border militancy and for an illegal fuel trade that authorities have struggled to crackdown on for decades.
“Such unfortunate incidents validate the need to have more formal ways to increase trading opportunities for local people,” the foreign office spokesperson said, adding that Pakistan viewed its border with Iran as a model for peace and security.
“We remain engaged with Iranian officials to discuss ways and means of facilitating cross-border commerce for local people living on both sides of the border and ensure the security of our common frontier,” he said.
According to AFP, Iran was also prodded by Human Rights Watch on Friday to investigate excessive use of force by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel to Pakistan.
Quoting Baluch activists, the rights group claimed that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route.
The action prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan.
“The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far. “The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.”
The rights group noted the lack of employment opportunities in the province, saying it left its ethnic Baluch population with few alternatives but to indulge in illegal trade with their fellow Balochs across the border.
“Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan [on the border with Iraq], its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” said the New York-based watchdog.

Linde traps Pakistan as South Africa level T20 series

Updated 12 April 2021

Linde traps Pakistan as South Africa level T20 series

  • Pakistan opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan fell into a trap off the first ball of the match and never recovered
  • South Africa deliberately placed mid-off Aiden Markram inside 30-meter circle to tempt Rizwan to go over the top

JOHANNESBURG: Pakistan opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan fell into a trap off the first ball of the match and the tourists never recovered as South Africa romped to a six-wicket win with six overs to spare in the second Twenty20 international at the Wanderers on Monday.
Man of the match George Linde revealed at the post-match presentation that South Africa deliberately placed mid-off Aiden Markram inside the 30-meter circle in order to tempt Rizwan to go over the top.
Rizwan danced down the wicket and went for a big hit but only succeeded in hitting a high catch to Markram.
“We had a game plan to bring that guy up and I was happy when he (Rizwan) came down the wicket,” said left-arm spinner Linde who went on to take three for 23.
He also held three catches in the deep and Pakistan were restricted to 140 for nine on what South African captain Heinrich Klaasen said was “a 180-190 wicket.”
South Africa showed up Pakistan’s batting shortcomings by racing to a series-levelling victory. Opening batsman Markram set the tone by slamming 54 off 30 balls.
There was a brief wobble when leg-spinner Usman Qadir took two wickets in successive overs to reduce South Africa to 92 for four but Klaasen (36 not out) and Linde took the hosts to the target with no further alarms.
Linde finished off a good day by scoring 20 not out off ten balls.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam made 50 and shared Pakistan’s only productive partnership, 58 off 49 balls for the third wicket, with Mohammad Hafeez (32).
“Aggression cost us the game,” said Babar after five of his batsmen fell to catches when they mistimed big hits.
“Early wickets cost us and the South Africans bowled really well,” he said.
Klaasen said the execution of South Africa’s bowlers was “spot on.” He singled out fast bowler Sisanda Magala, who had a nightmare first over, starting with three no-balls and then bowling three wides in conceding 18 runs.
“He begged me for another over,” said Klaasen. “He said, ‘I’m your guy today’ and he proved it.”
Magala’s next three overs, including two at the ‘death’, cost only 14 runs and he took the key wicket of Babar, his first in international cricket.
Klaasen said the message to the South African batsmen was to be positive and to base their approach on the quality of the pitch rather than the runs required.
“We want to play aggressive cricket but not cowboy cricket,” he said, pointing out that he tempered his aggression after Qadir’s double strike.
The series moves to nearby Centurion for the final two matches, on Wednesday and Friday.

Protests across major Pakistani cities after religious party chief arrested in Lahore

Updated 3 min 54 sec ago

Protests across major Pakistani cities after religious party chief arrested in Lahore

  • Saad Rizvi has threatened government with protests if it does not expel France’s ambassador over cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
  • Rizvi has called on the government to honor what he says was a commitment made in February to expel the French envoy before April 20

ISLAMABAD: Protests erupted in major Pakistani cities, causing massive traffic snarls, while main intercity highways remained blocked as police arrested the leader of a religious political party, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), on Monday, a day after he threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Saad Rizvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore to “maintain law and order,” Ghulam Mohammad Dogar, chief of Lahore police, told AP.

Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, center, son of late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, gestures with party leaders during a gathering in Lahore on January 3, 2021. (AFP/File)

Rizvi called on the government to honor what he said was a commitment it made in February to his party to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of the Prophet (pbuh).

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan says it had only committed to debating the matter in Parliament.

“Protests broke out at numerous places in Karachi and other major cities following the development,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported.

Police use water cannon to disperse supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) during a protest in Lahore on April 12, 2021, after the arrest of their leader, who has called for the expulsion of the French ambassador. (AFP)

In a video message, another TLP leader, Syed Zaheerul Hassan Shah, called on supporters to come out in the streets in protest, saying the government had "completely deviated from" the agreement it had reached with the TLP.

“Carry out protest demonstrations on roads and wherever you are, jam the entire country," Shah said. 

Rizvi became the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. 

Rizvi’s party wants the government to boycott French products and expel the French ambassador under an agreement signed by the government with Rizvi’s party in February.

Tehreek-e-Labiak and other religious parties denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as freedom of expression. Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in class. The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures. That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe those depictions are blasphemous.

Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

It also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form.

Pakistan’s central bank says studying feasibility of issuing its own digital currency

Updated 12 April 2021

Pakistan’s central bank says studying feasibility of issuing its own digital currency

  • State Bank governor says “comprehensive internal survey” being carried out to learn about trends in other countries
  • Global central banks developing digital currencies to modernise financial systems, ward off threat from cryptocurrencies, speed up payments

KARACHI: Pakistan’s central bank is conducting a “comprehensive internal survey” to study the feasibility of launching a digital currency in the country, the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan said on Monday.  

Global central banks are looking at developing digital currencies to modernise their financial systems, ward off the threat from cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and speed up domestic and international payments. China is one of the most advanced in its effort, and last month proposed a set of global rules for central bank digital currencies, from how they can be used around the world to highly sensitive issues such as monitoring and information sharing.
“There are many things involved and we are conducting a comprehensive internal study that what are the trends in other central banks,” governor State Bank Dr Reza Baqir said while speaking to journalists at the Pakistan Stock Exchange. “When our study would be completed the outcome will be shared … The experience of other central banks and may be the basis for our considerations.”

Pakistan central bank governor Dr. Reza Baqir speaks at a gong ceremony at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, Pakistan, on April 12, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Stock Exchange)

In an interview to international media last month, Baqir said introducing a digital currency would boost the government’s efforts at financial inclusion and allow it to make “progress in our fight towards anti-money laundering and towards countering terrorism financing.”
The Bank of Japan began experiments this month to study the feasibility of issuing its own digital currency, joining efforts by other central banks that are aiming to match the innovation in the field achieved by the private sector. The first phase of Japan's experiments, to be carried out until March 2022, will focus on testing the technical feasibility of issuing, distributing and redeeming a central bank digital currency (CBDC).

As digital currencies such as bitcoin gain more traction with mainstream companies and investors, and as private efforts like the Facebook-backed Diem seek approval, the onus is on central banks to accelerate plans to issue digital cash to fend off threats to their control over money.

The People's Bank of China is aiming to become the first major central bank to issue a CBDC, part of its push to internationalise the yuan and reduce dependence on the dollar-dominated global banking system.

The European Central Bank is also exploring the introduction of a digital euro, within the next five years. It’s running into opposition from Germany, though, where the Bundesbank worries that a digital euro could pose risks to banks.

A CBDC that gains wide acceptance in international trade and payments could ultimately erode the dollar’s status as the de facto currency of world trade and undermine US influence, many analysts say.

But cybersecurity experts also warn against threats to security as well as privacy risks.
“It provides opportunities for malicious hackers and cyber crooks to carry out frauds, scams, and theft through phishing and ransomware attacks,” Muhammad Khurram Khan, founder & CEO of the Washington DC-based Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research, told Arab News. “To build a secure, resilient and privacy-preserving ecosystem, the central bank of Pakistan needs to implement strong data security standards, processes, protocols, and technologies to protect against burgeoning cyber risks.”
“One major challenge associated with digital currencies is the consumer's privacy concerns,” Khan added. “Therefore, the central bank has to make sure to protect the rights of users for their privacy while they make transactions.”

Pakistan hopes UK will review adding it to 'high risk' countries over terror funding

Updated 12 April 2021

Pakistan hopes UK will review adding it to 'high risk' countries over terror funding

  • UK government list replicates 21 countries listed by Financial Action Task Force for being high risk or under increased monitoring
  • Since 2018, Pakistan has been on FATF “grey list” of countries with inadequate terror financing and money laundering controls

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Monday it hoped the United Kingdom would review its decision to add Pakistan to a list of 21 countries that were at ‘high-risk’ over terror funding and money laundering concerns.

The list replicates countries listed by the global watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), for being high risk or under increased monitoring.

Since 2018, Pakistan has been on FATF’s “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls over terrorism financing, which has made foreign firms more cautious about investing in Pakistan.

In a statement issued from Islamabad, Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said Pakistan hoped the "UK would review its regulations in light of facts on ground and avoid politically motivated and misplaced measures."

FATF has said Pakistan had now met over 21 targets out of 27 set for it in 2018 but still needs to demonstrate that law enforcement agencies are identifying and investigating the widest range of terrorism financing activity.

The watchdog also asked Islamabad to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.

Pakistan has lately been pushing through tougher legislation and other measures to ward off blacklisting by the FATF.

In recent months, it says its law enforcement agencies have cracked down on militant groups - especially Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its welfare arms, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insanyat - and on their sources of income, arresting, trying and convicting several of their members and leaders.

Pakistan denies long-standing accusations that it has nurtured and supported militant groups for use as proxies to project power in the region, particularly towards its arch-rival India and in Afghanistan.

Pakistan calls for enforcement of coronavirus health rules to avoid ‘crisis-like situation’

Updated 12 April 2021

Pakistan calls for enforcement of coronavirus health rules to avoid ‘crisis-like situation’

  • Planning minister says hospitals filing up, “weak” adherence to coronavirus standard operating procedures
  • Pakistan in the midst of third wave of coronavirus, recorded 4,584 new infections in last 24 hours with 58 deaths

ISLAMABAD: Planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads the government’s pandemic response authority, the NCOC, said on Monday hospitals in Pakistan were filling up and infections were rising, calling on the administration to enforce coronavirus standard operating procedures.
Pakistan is in the midst of a third wave of the coronavirus and recorded 4,584 new infections in the last 24 hours, with 58 deaths. Health officials said on Sunday Pakistan had lost over 650 people to COVID-19 in the last week. 
“Reviewed situation of disease spread, fill up of hospitals & SOP compliance status in the NCOC meeting today. SOP compliance remains very weak & pressure on hospitals is increasing,” Umar wrote on Twitter. “Administration has been asked to ramp up compliance enforcement to avoid a crises like situation.”

On April 6, less than a week ago, Umar had said the coronavirus situation was improving:
“Increased restrictions, broader lockdowns & stronger sop [standard operating procedures] enforcement starting to have effect,” he said on Twitter. “Initial signs of positivity slowing. However, due to momentum of last 2 weeks patients on critical care & mortality will stay at high levels for some time.”

Pakistan recently re-imposed a number of restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including closing schools, disallowing indoor dining and large gatherings like weddings and making masks mandatory in public places. 
Earlier this month, Pakistan announced new health guidelines for Ramadan which begins in the South Asian nation on April 14, including banning the entry of people older than 50 years and ado­lescents in mosques and shrines during the holy month.
Mosques around the country will remain open during Ramadan with strict adherence to COVID-19 standard operating procedures, the government has said. 
Last year after the coronavirus first broke out, a restriction on congregation provoked a backlash in Pakistan, with attacks on police as they attempted to halt prayers at mosques.
Health experts have repeatedly warned that congregations pose the biggest threat to Pakistan’s limited health care resources and infrastructure, which will crumble under the weight of a wide-spread outbreak of the coronavirus.
“Rows of the praying individuals should be aligned so that there is a distance of 6 feet between individuals,” the National Command And Operation Center said in published guidelines, saying people should perform ablutions at home. “It is obligatory that mask is worn before coming to mosque or imambargah and not to shake hands or hug anyone in the mosque.”
Unlike in the past, the government said sehr and iftar, the meals to keep and break the fast respectively, should not be held at mosques or shrines. Typically, mass sehr and iftars are held for poor people at mosques in Muslim countries. The ban will also apply to the seclusion of Itikaf when Muslims spend the last 10 days of the month in mosques to pray and meditate, with the government asking people to seclude at home. 
“If during Ramzan, the government feels that these precautionary measures are not being observed or the number of affectees has risen to a dangerous level, then the government will revise its policy related to mosques and imambargahs, as for other departments,” the NCOC said. “The government has also the right to change the orders and policy regarding severely affected specific areas.”