Pakistan 'defers' plans to resume Indian imports until disputed Kashmir’s autonomy restored

Pakistan laborers unload sacks of onion imported from neighboring India at Pakistani border Wagah near Lahore Pakistan on May 14, 2013. (AP/File)
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Updated 01 April 2021
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Pakistan 'defers' plans to resume Indian imports until disputed Kashmir’s autonomy restored

  • Foreign minister says ‘impossible’ to normalize relations with India until New Delhi revises August 5, 2019 decision to strip Kashmir’s special status
  • Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee had on Wednesday given the go-ahead for imports from India

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has decided to defer plans to allow limited imports of sugar, cotton and wheat from India, a top minister said on Thursday, following what is being seen as a political backlash against the move in the South Asian nation.

Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee had on Wednesday given the go-ahead for imports from India, with Finance Minister Hammad Azhar telling reporters the government had made the decision in the public interest when questioned why trade was resuming despite no change in New Delhi’s position on Kashmir — a disputed territory ruled in part but claimed in full by both nations.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters the decision to allow Indian imports had been “deferred” until New Delhi restored Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status.

In a video message after a cabinet meeting to review the decision on Indian imports, Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: 

“It was everyone’s unanimous decision, including the prime minister’s, that until India does not revise the August 5, 2019 unilateral decision [to revoke the special autonomy of Kashmir], normalizing relations with India will not be possible.”

Pakistan’s major opposition parties have already expressed concern over the government’s announcement on Wednesday.

Former senator Sehar Kamran from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party said trade with India and restorations of relations “cannot be done at the cost of Kashmir.”

“Any peace initiative can only progress if the people of Kashmir get their right to self-determination as per the United Nations resolutions,” she told Arab News. “At a time when people of Kashmir are facing oppression and suppression, what kind of relationship we are trying to build with India? Naturally, there are concerns and apprehensions.”

Raja Zafar ul Haq, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, echoed Kamran’s sentiments.

“The government didn’t bring this matter to parliament or discuss it with political parties and Kashmiri leadership,” he told Arab News. “This will not have a positive impact on the country.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Imran Khan responded to a letter by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the occasion of Pakistan’s Republic Day on March 23, saying the government and people of his country wanted peaceful and cooperative relations with all neighbors, including India.

“Durable peace and security in South Asia is contingent upon resolving all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, particularly the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” Khan said in his letter.

Qureshi this week also acknowledged progress in relations between the two South Asian neighbors, saying there had been “positive developments” such as the announcement of a cease-fire on the disputed Kashmir border in February and the resumption of water talks last month. 

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947.


Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior social media member amid government crackdown

Updated 20 July 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior social media member amid government crackdown

  • PTI’s international media coordinator was taken away from his residence by people in plain clothes at 4 AM
  • Ahmed Janjua’s wife filed an application in a local court for his recovery, requesting an immediate hearing

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announced on Saturday a top member of its social media team had been “abducted,” adding the development was part of an ongoing crackdown against the party which had deteriorated the human rights situation in the country.
PTI has been facing a crackdown for over a year after people carrying its flag indulged in violent protests and vandalized government buildings and military properties following Khan’s brief detention on corruption charges.
Since then, several of its top leaders, including the ex-premier himself, have been incarcerated in different parts of the country and tried in a number of legal cases against them.
The recent development took place when the party’s international media coordinator was taken away from his residence, making his wife file an application in a court for his recovery.
“My International Media Coordinator Ahmed Janjua and 3 other SM [social media] activists have been abducted early morning,” said Zulfi Bukhari, a senior PTI leader and close aide to the former prime minister, in a social media post. “In the past 2 weeks there has been a serious crackdown on PTI social media [team].”
Bukhari attributed it to the team’s international reporting of “all the atrocities” taking place in Pakistan.
“This continuous deterioration of basic human rights won’t be allowed to continue for long,” he added.

 
Janjua’s wife, Farhana Barlas, filed an application in the Islamabad High Court, requesting an immediate hearing. However, the court is likely to take up the case on Monday since the incident took place over the weekend.
According to her application, 20 people in plain clothes forcibly entered the house at 4 AM on Saturday after breaking the door.
They took away Janjua’s laptop and cellphones before dragging him away.
The family tried to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police, but it was not registered by the relevant officials.
Janjua’s wife said her husband had been taken away due to his affiliation with Khan’s political party.
She nominated the federal secretaries of the defense and interior ministries as the respondents, along with the inspector general of police and the station house officer of the local police precinct.


Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

Updated 20 July 2024
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Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

  • PPP says it will not become part of any ‘undemocratic move,’ though the matter will be decided by top leaders
  • The government announced its plan to impose a ban on PTI for alleged involvement in anti-state activities

ISLAMABAD: A key coalition ally of the Pakistan government on Saturday distanced itself from the decision to ban jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for its alleged involvement in anti-state activities, saying it would not become part of such an “undemocratic move.”
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar announced the government’s plan earlier this week to ban Khan’s party, just days after the Supreme Court handed PTI a major legal victory by declaring it eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.
Tarar justified the decision on the basis of “available evidence,” saying the ex-PM’s party was guilty of inciting violent protests last year, which made its followers set government buildings on fire, along with publicizing state secrets.
Shortly after his announcement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition partners, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), said they had not been taken into confidence.
Subsequently, government representatives, including Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP co-chairman, on Friday and told him about the decision to file treason charges against Khan and two senior PTI leaders, former President Arif Alvi and ex-Deputy National Assembly Speaker Qasim Suri.
“We have clearly told Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s representatives our party would not become part of any undemocratic move like banning the PTI,” Sehar Kamran, a PPP lawmaker, told Arab News. “We are the government’s key coalition partners but we were not consulted on its decision to slap a ban on Imran Khan’s party.”
Kamran said the PPP would take the matter to its Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting for a final decision, though “one thing is for sure that we are not going to be part of any undemocratic, unconstitutional and illegal action of the government.”
She said it was not clear yet as to when her party’s CEC meeting would be called as the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was out of the country.
“The government should try to find out democratic and constitutional solutions to its problems,” she added.
Sharif’s another key coalition partner, MQM-P, also said they were not taken on board before the announcement of the government’s decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against Khan and other leaders.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s party has not contacted us yet for consultation on their decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against the party’s leadership,” an MQM-P media cell official told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will discuss the matter in our party before making the final decision whether we should stand by the government or not,” he continued. “It is too early to say anything about it. Let’s wait for the government to share its plans with us first.”
Arab News reached out to the information minister for comment but did not receive a response.


PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

Updated 20 July 2024
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PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

  • Naila Kiani highlights lack of training facilities for high-altitude climbers, calling for a mountaineering school
  • Kiani says foreign mountaineers prefer to bring Sherpas from Nepal instead of taking local porters with them

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday appreciated Pakistani women for providing valuable services in every field while holding a meeting with the globally acclaimed high-altitude climber Naila Kiani, who highlighted a lack of training facilities for mountaineers in the country.
Kiani, who garnered attention for being one of the few Pakistani women to scale some of the world’s highest peaks, met the prime minister at his official residence in Islamabad.
Among her notable accomplishments, she has successfully summited Mount Everest and K2, the world’s highest and second-highest mountains, respectively. Her accomplishments have made her a significant figure in the mountaineering community, inspiring many with her determination and resilience.
“The prime minister said providing facilities to the women in various sectors including information technology, education, professional training, sports and other sectors was part of the government’s top priorities,” said an official statement released by the PM Office after the meeting.
“The prime minister congratulated Naila on becoming the first Pakistani woman to conquer 11 peaks, above 8,000 meters, calling it a proud moment for Pakistan,” it added.
Speaking to Arab News after the meeting, Kiani said she had presented proposals for specialized training and vocational education in the mountaineering sector.
“I spoke to the PM about lack of any training facilities for mountaineers,” she said. “Pakistan doesn’t have a single internationally qualified mountaineer due to a lack of state-of-the-art mountaineering training institute.”
“The PM instructed his team to set up a committee immediately and start working on the establishment of a mountaineering school,” she continued. “I am also chairing a sub-committee, and the team will visit Skardu next week for official meetings and to visit the potential site for the school.”
Kiani said the proposed training facility would also help facilitate high-altitude climbers from abroad.
“The lack of training leads to so many issues for western climbers who take Pakistani high porters,” she informed. “They prefer Sherpas [from Nepal] instead. Establishing this school will not only enhance skills of all high-altitude workers and climbers but also help flourish the region economically. We can attract a lot more foreign adventure tourists if we are more skilled.”
Home to some of the tallest peaks and stunning landscapes, Pakistan attracts foreign climbers and tourists from around the world in every mountaineering season, making it a premier destination for adventure enthusiasts.


One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 20 July 2024
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One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

  • Baloch Liberation Army kidnapped seven ethnic Punjabi tourists from a picnic spot in Balochistan on June 19
  • BLA offered to release the abductees in exchange for its fighters, but the government refused the proposal

QUETTA: Shan Raza, 58, was devastated last month upon learning that a separatist group had abducted his three sons, Rehan, Farhan and Hassan, along with two other relatives, in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.
Since then, Raza has been trying hard to bring a smile on the faces of his grandchildren, whom he finds wearing a dismal look since their fathers were taken away from Shaban, a tourist spot some 35 kilometers away from the provincial capital of Quetta.
Pakistan’s most impoverished Balochistan province shares its border with Iran and Afghanistan and has been the scene of a low-level insurgency for the last two decades. The separatists demand independence from Pakistan and seek control over provincial resources like gold and copper.
These groups have often targeted Pakistani forces and people from the Punjab province, the heartland of Pakistani military and political elite, in the restive southwestern region over what they say are enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Baloch men. Pakistan denies it.
Raza’s sons, his nephew and a relative had gone to Shaban for picnic on June 19. They were among seven people abducted from the spot by the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
“My entire house is empty now, my family keeps asking me about the release of my abducted sons, but now we are in very gloomy conditions for the last thirty days,” Raza told Arab News this week.
“The tears in the eyes of my wife and daughters-in-law are dried, they want nothing from me but the safe return of my sons.”
Recalling the day when his sons left home for Shaban, the 58-year-old said they had initially planned to go to Peer Ghaib, another picnic spot in Balochistan’s mountainous Bolan district, but he didn’t allow them due to security concerns.
“Then they told me that they were going to Shaban, but I didn’t know this place was not safe either,” Raza added.
Shortly after their abduction, the BLA offered the government to negotiate their release in exchange for BLA fighters incarcerated in Pakistani jails.
The group this month announced it would “implement punishments of the arrested suspects” after the government refused to negotiate their release, but there has since been no news of the hostages. The separatists accuse ethnic Punjabi settlers in Balochistan of spying for state agencies, though they have rarely offered any evidence to support their claim.
But Raza was hopeful that the government might be making efforts to secure the release of his sons and others. “I want nothing from them [Pakistani officials], but a safe recovery of my sons,” he said.
Shahid Rind, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said the government and Pakistani security forces were making joint efforts to recover the abductees.
“The chief minister met with the despondent families and apprised them of government efforts,” Rind told Arab News. “[But] the demand to release detained terrorists for a swap of Shaban abductees is unacceptable for the government of Balochistan.”
Rihan, the son of Raza’s abducted nephew Muhammad Raza, said his family was praying day and night for the release of his father. “My mother, sister and grandmother are very much depressed since my father was kidnapped,” the 13-year-old said.
Raza said the wait for his sons and other abductees has been “excruciating.”
“We run toward the door on every single knock and get alerted on every single call on our cell phones with hopes that my sons will return home,” the dejected father said, with teary eyes.


Pakistan’s northwestern province forms inquiry commission after deadly shooting at Bannu rally

Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistan’s northwestern province forms inquiry commission after deadly shooting at Bannu rally

  • KP administration says the commission will ensure ‘transparent’ probe and its report will be made public
  • It says the incident occurred at a sensitive area in Bannu cantonment that was on alert due to militancy

PESHAWAR: The provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Saturday announced the establishment of an inquiry commission to ensure a “transparent investigation” into the killings of people in a shooting incident at a rally in Bannu a day earlier, where people were calling for peace amid a surge in militant attacks.
At least two persons were killed and more than 20 injured after gunfire triggered a stampede at the procession attended by tens of thousands of people. The demonstration was held at a time when KP, which borders Afghanistan, has seen a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks.
The shocking increase in daily attacks led the residents of the area to demand peace only a few days after 10 soldiers were killed by militants in the cantonment area in Bannu.
In a statement shared on his social media account, KP government’s spokesperson Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur was personally monitoring the situation in the city.
“The chief minister has also announced the formation of a commission for a transparent investigation into the incident,” he informed. “The commission will conduct an impartial investigation and present a report, which will be made public. The role of those responsible will be determined and legal action will be taken.”
Local residents and some Pakistani politicians accused the security forces of the shooting incident, though the KP official was reticent about who was responsible.
“The unpleasant incident occurred at a sensitive location in Bannu cantonment, the same place where a suicide bombing took place recently,” he added. “Sensitive areas generally have high security alerts, and soldiers and civilians were martyred in the suicide attack. The sensitive nature of this location was also a factor in yesterday’s unfortunate incident.”
The KP spokesperson urged the public to exercise “extreme caution” given the current wave of militant attacks.
Meanwhile, a global rights organization, Amnesty International, took notice of the firing incident in Bannu, calling it a violation of the right to peaceful assembly.
“The use of lethal force at a peaceful rally advocating for peace is unlawful and is at odds with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials,” it noted in a statement.
“The Government of Pakistan has repeatedly failed to promote and facilitate peaceful assembly, and to ensure the safety of protesters,” it continued. “[Amnesty] urges the government to promptly investigate and hold to account officials responsible for the attack.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also said it was “appalled” by the development.
“This seemingly state-sanctioned violation of citizens’ right to life and right to freedom of peaceful assembly is reprehensible and reflects a dangerous contempt for citizen-led calls for peace,” it added.
The participants of the public gathering in Bannu have announced to continue their rally.