Fencing Iran, Afghan border may impact locals but peace first priority — Balochistan home minister

A Pakistani army soldier stands guard along with border fence at the Pak-Afghan border near the Punjpai area of Quetta in Balochistan on May 8, 2018. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Fencing Iran, Afghan border may impact locals but peace first priority — Balochistan home minister

  • Mir Ziaullah Langau rules out talks with disgruntled Baloch separatist leaders in an ‘atmosphere of terrorism’
  • Says plan to make Gwadar southern capital of Balochistan not discussed at any official forum

KARACHI: Pakistan is ‘speedily’ fencing its border with Iran and Afghanistan to curb militant attacks, Balochistan’s home minister told Arab News in an exclusive interview this week, admitting that the measure would impact the livelihood of people who depended on cross-border trade but adding that maintaining peace was the government’s top priority.
In recent years, relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across their 900-km border.
In 2019, the two nations said they would form a joint quick reaction force to combat militant activity on their shared border, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. The border is also the entry point of a lucrative, illegal fuel trade that authorities have struggled to crackdown on for decades.
“Our long [western] border is not safe, due to which terrorism happens on a daily basis and people’s lives are under threat,” Mir Ziaullah Langau said in an interview on Monday.
“So, the first thing you do is to [protect] the lives of people,” he said, adding that work on fencing was “underway speedily.”
Pakistan started fencing its western border two years ago, with the country’s Economic Coordination Committee allocating Rs3 billion ($18.6 million) in additional funding to fence the stretch along Iran in April last year.
Almost all border districts of Balochistan heavily rely on the illegal trade of Iranian fuel and other products, with many arguing that the complete fencing of the border would deprive a large population of its primary source of income if the government did not provide alternative means of livelihood.
Langau admitted it was the responsibility of the state to help people make a living, adding that a committee under his chairmanship was already looking into the issue.
“We are making a free economic zone and trying to promote legal businesses,” he said. “We have decided to employ people who may suffer due to border fencing in four government departments: police, levies, frontier constabulary and the provincial disaster management authority.”
Balochistan has for decades been the site of a a low-level insurgency by separatist groups seeking a greater share of the province’s gas and mineral revenue. While authorities say they have largely quelled the insurgency, sporadic incidents of violence continue to take place across the region.
Asked about the overall security situation in the province, the Balochistan home minister said it had improved though more work needed to be done.
“There was a time when we were witnessing daily suicide attacks,” Langau said. “However, the sacrifices of our security forces have brought down the number of such incidents to a significant extent, though terrorism has not entirely disappeared.”
Langau said his government believed in resolving issues through negotiations, adding that peace talks with disgruntled Baloch leaders could not happen in an “atmosphere of terrorism.”
“Our government wants to talk to everyone and resolve issues through negotiations, but terrorism should stop,” he said. “It is not possible to hold dialogue in an atmosphere of terrorism.”
The provincial home minister denied any official deliberations on the idea of turning Gwadar into the province’s southern capital.
“Balochistan is a very big province and constitutes about half of Pakistan’s landmass,” he said. “There is no harm if such a decision was taken for administrative purposes. However, this thing has not been discussed in the cabinet or any official forum.”
However, he said turning Gwadar into a capital would benefit the area’s people.
“If the chief minister and his cabinet are there in Gwadar,” Langua said, “they will be able to address the challenges faced by locals in their native environment instead of Quetta.”


Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

Updated 37 min 20 sec ago

Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

  • Says Islamabad never evaded talks but India would have to revert disputed Kashmir region’s special autonomy
  • Tells reporters about his three-day visit: “My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan”

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday Pakistan had never evaded peace talks and wanted to live in peace with all its neighbors, including India, but New Delhi would have to reverse an August 5, 2019 move to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its special autonomy.
Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries’ creation in 1947. They have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.
India in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and took direct control over it, sparking unrest. Pakistan has since maintained it is open to talks if New Delhi reverses the August 2019 decision.
The FM’s remarks, reported by Pakistani media, came as he spoke at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates where Qureshi is on three-day official visit.
“Both India and Pakistan will have to think about their bilateral ties,” the foreign minister said. “Pakistan is ready to talk with India if it takes back its steps of August 5. Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue.”
Qureshi added that Pakistan desired peace in the region because peace would create more economic opportunities.
On Sunday Qureshi ruled out any ‘secret meetings’ between Pakistan and India during his UAE visit.
The announcement that Qureshi’s Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar would also be in the UAE at the same time as the Pakistani foreign minister triggered speculation about a possible meeting. Both leaders’ arrival in the UAE comes just days after the Emirati envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state had been mediating between the nuclear-armed rivals to help them reach a “healthy and functional” relationship. 
“There have been a number of speculations about secret meetings between me and the external affairs minister of India, S. Jaishankar but neither was our meeting planned and nor are we meeting,” Qureshi told reporters.
“I am here for a bilateral visit and not an India-specific agenda. My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan.”
“I don’t think a meeting is set out with the Indian foreign minister,” Qureshi added.


Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2021

Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

  • Over 4,500 patients are now in critical care, 30% higher than June last year
  • Planning minister says citizens making a “huge mistake” by not following coronavirus health guidelines

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads a federal body overseeing the country’s pandemic response, said Pakistani hospitals were filing up fast as coronavirus cases rose and oxygen supplies were “under stress.”
Pakistan on Monday recorded 5,152 new infections and 73 coronavirus-related deaths, government data showed, as a third wave of the coronavirus sweeps the country. The South Asian nation of 220 million has recorded 761,437 infections and 16,316 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in February last year.
According to official data, 4,515 coronavirus patients are currently in critical condition.
“Hospital fill up continuing to grow. Critical care patients now above 4500, which is 30% higher than peak in June last year. Oxygen supply capacity in the country is now under stress,” Umar said on Twitter, adding that compliance of coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) remained low. “We are making a huge mistake by not following sops.”


On Sunday, Hong Kong announced it would suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time. The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The British government has also banned international arrivals from Pakistan amid concerns over new virus variants.


Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

  • Eleven people died and 98 were injured after four carriages of the train derailed in a province north of Cairo 
  • Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday extended its condolences to Egypt, a day after 11 people were killed and 98 injured in a train accident in the Qalioubia province, 40km north of the capital, Cairo.
“We convey our deepest sympathies on the tragic train accident in Egypt,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a Tweet on Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the government, the brotherly people of Egypt and the families of those who have lost their lives. We wish quick recovery to the injured,” it added.

The accident took place after four carriages of the train, which was heading from Cairo to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, derailed in Toukh on Sunday. 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered the military’s engineering authority to investigate the crash, with the driver and rail officials detained for questioning.
Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province of the country, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200, including children.
Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with Egypt, with both countries working toward strengthening their relationship in recent months.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held talks with President El-Sisi during a two-day visit to Egypt in February this year, where he acknowledged that Egypt was an “important member” of the Muslim world, before describing it as the “gateway to Africa.”


Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

Updated 19 April 2021

Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

  • Three countries classified as "extremely high risk" after multiple imported cases of coronavirus into Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time, authorities said in a statement late on Sunday.
The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The city reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, 29 of which were imported, marking the highest daily toll since March 15. Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths.
Hong Kong authorities have been urging residents to get vaccinated for coronavirus with only around 9% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents vaccinated so far.
The government last week widened the city’s vaccine scheme to include those aged between 16 to 29 years old for the first time, as they aim to boost lacklustre demand for inoculations among residents.
Airlines impacted by Hong Kong’s ban on travelers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines include carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Vistara and Cebu Pacific. 


Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan team allowed to meet arrested leader today after 11 hostages released

Updated 57 min 8 sec ago

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan team allowed to meet arrested leader today after 11 hostages released

  • Interior minister says policemen released after first round of negotiations with the religious political party which is holding nationwide protests
  • PM Khan says “great misfortune” that political and religious parties “use Islam wrongly and ... do damage to their own country”

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: A nine-member delegation of the recently banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will meet the religious political party’s chief Saad Rizvi in jail today, Monday, a spokesperson for the group said.
His statement comes after eleven policemen taken hostage by the TLP during clashes in Lahore on Sunday were released in the early hours of Monday, following negotiations with the government.
Rioting by the rightwing group has rocked the country since last Monday when the TLP chief was arrested in Lahore for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year.
The protests have paralyzed major cities and highways, leading to the deaths of six policemen, according to the government, with thousands of TLP workers under arrest, police say. The TLP says dozens of its supporters have also been killed but hospital and government officials have not been able to verify this. The riots have prompted the French embassy to recommend all its nationals temporarily leave the country last week.
“A nine member delegation of the religious scholars will go to Kot lakhpat jail to meet the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan chief Saad Hussain Rizvi,” TLP spokesperson Pir Ejaz Ashrafi, told Arab News. 
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Sheikh Rahsid Ahmed announced that the TLP had released 11 policemen being held hostage after a successful first round of negotiations. 
“We hope that the second meeting ... will also be successful and matters will be amicably resolved with the TLP,” Ahmed said.
TLP chief Rizvi has 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.
In a veiled reference to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party on Monday, Khan said: “ln our country, it is a great misfortune that many times our political parties and religious parties use Islam wrongly and use it such that they do damage to their own country.”
Addressing the groundbreaking ceremony for the Margalla Highway in Islamabad, the PM said hurting people, properties and infrastructure would only hurt our own people and “will not have any impact on them [blasphemers].”
He said he had launched a global campaign against Islamophobia and blasphemy, and would continue the effort: “At some point, people in the West will fear before insulting the honor of our Prophet (pbuh).”
On Sunday evening, Information Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry had said the government believed in negotiating but wouldn’t be blackmailed.
“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said.
“The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped. The state can’t be blackmailed by a proscribed armed outfit. [Prime Minister] Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the Prophet (PBUH) and he has talked about this at every forum.”
Earlier on Sunday, a police spokesman, Arif Rana, said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol.
By Sunday evening, he said the situation was “at a standstill” with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement personnel standing guard.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be dissolved.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils during a civics lesson.
During similar protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including that it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament.
A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20.
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.