Pakistan to deploy paramilitary soldiers to quell protests as policeman beaten to death in Lahore 

Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party throw stones over the police armoured vehicle during a protest against the arrest of their leader as he was demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over depictions of Prophet Muhammad, in Barakahu neighbourhood of Islamabad on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 13 April 2021

Pakistan to deploy paramilitary soldiers to quell protests as policeman beaten to death in Lahore 

  • Interior minister says no decision taken yet to release religious party chief Saad Rizvi as terrorism and other charges filed against him
  • Arrest of Rizvi on Monday unleashed violent protests in major Pakistani cities with the TTP party saying 20 of its supporters had been killed 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has decided to deploy paramilitary soldiers to quell countrywide protests by a religious political party after demonstrators beat a police constable to death in the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday, local media reported.

Protests erupted in major cities across Pakistan after Saad Rizvi, the head of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) religious party, was arrested on Monday. 

On Sunday, Rizvi had threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

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

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

“The government has decided to deploy Rangers to maintain law and order in four Punjab cities, amid clashes between supporters of a religious party and the police,” Pakistani news channel Samaa reported. 

Lahore police spokesperson Rana Arif told the daily Dawn newspaper protesters had beaten a police constable to death in Lahore’s Shahdara area, and a police case had been registered against TLP leaders and supporters. Police have also registered a case against Rizvi on terrorism and other charges, Arif said. 

At least 40 policemen were injured during the demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday in Lahore alone, according to a police report published in local media. 

The interior minister denied a decision had been taken to release Rizvi. 

“No decision to release anybody,” Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

A senior government adviser, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, said the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration wanted a peaceful resolution of the issue.

“Peaceful protest is their [TLP’s] right, but there must be no violence and hindrance to public movement due to the demonstrations,” Ashrafi, who advises the prime minister on religious harmony, told Arab News. “We should all endeavor for the unity of Muslims and religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country.”

In a voice message sent to Arab News, TLP media coordinator Arslan Tassaduq said at least 20 people had been killed in firing by authorities. 

“Our supporters have been shot,” he said. “More than 20 of TLP’s supporters have been shot and they have been martyred.” 

The government and police have not confirmed the TLP’s claim and Arab News could not independently verify the number of fatalities. 

“You will have to expel the French ambassador under all costs,” a TLP statement released on Tuesday afternoon said. “The country will remain jammed until the French ambassador is expelled.” 

In a separate statement, TLP said its protests would go on until Rizvi was released.

Meanwhile, protests continued in cities across the country for a second day. 

“All main cities like Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Peshawar were cut off from each other and the rest of the country,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported. “The activists held sit-ins at various points in Hyderabad and Sukkur. They blocked highways, motorways and train tracks, disrupting life ... and causing violence as protesters clashed with police at many places.” 

Pakistani media reported that at least 100 TLP supporters had been arrested on Monday night, while police said dozens of officers had been injured by protesters. 

“By 10pm [n Monday night], the blockage assumed another dimension when both the Punjab minister and secretary of specialized health care started warning that hospitals were running out of oxygen,” Dawn reported, quoting Punjab health minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid as saying: “The supply is made every eight hours and all critical COVID-19 patients need fresh supplies, which cannot be made because all major arteries of the city are blocked. The crisis situation could quickly assume disaster proportions if supplies are not immediately restored.” 

Rizvi became the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. His 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 FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

  • Says difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy" in Kashmir
  • Complains about India redrawing electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan's new foreign minister said Thursday there was little scope for dialogue with India as he denounced actions by the historic rival in divided Kashmir.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, visiting the United Nations weeks after his appointment under a new government, said it was difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir."
"Having said that, we are very cognizant of the fact that economic activity, dialogue, diplomacy are ultimately the ways and means for countries to engage with each other and resolve disputes," he told reporters.
"I just note that, particularly at the moment, given this aggressive, hostile behavior, the practical space for that happening is very limited," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government in 2019 stripped the special status of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority but a large and historic Hindu minority population.
Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of a famous political dynasty, also complained about India's recent redrawing of electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote in the Himalayan territory partially controlled by Pakistan.
Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan in 2015, a year after taking office, but relations have plunged in recent years.
Analysts say that India is hoping for more pragmatic steps with Pakistan's new prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, whose own political family has a history of being able to deal diplomatically with India.
But India described an exchange of letters between Modi and Sharif as a diplomatic courtesy and insisted that Pakistan stop supporting "cross-border terrorism."
Bhutto was visiting the United Nations for a meeting on food security and met on the sidelines Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 


Ex-PM Khan to announce timing of anti-government long march in Multan today

Updated 7 min 51 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan to announce timing of anti-government long march in Multan today

  • Khan plans to bring ‘a sea of people’ to Islamabad while seeking early elections
  • The former prime minister has vowed to protest until fresh polls are announced

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is expected to announce the date for his anti-government long march to Pakistan’s federal capital at a power show in Multan on Friday, according to a video clip of him addressing his supporters which was shared by one of his aides on Twitter.

Last month, Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history who was driven out of power in a no-confidence vote.

He has since accused the United States of orchestrating the downfall of his administration with the help of his political rivals, saying that Washington was vexed at his desire to pursue an independent foreign policy.

US officials have repeatedly denied the allegation.

“Our last political gathering before the Islamabad march will take place tomorrow [on Friday] in Multan,” he can be seen telling a group of his supporters in a video clip shared by Usman Dar who advises him on youth affairs.

“I will announce the day when my entire nation must reach Islamabad,” he said, adding the actual objective of the march was to secure “real freedom” for Pakistan.

Khan, who is also the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has called for early elections in the country while promising to hold political protests until the new government announces the date for the next polls.

Khan previously warned the government that a “sea of people” would arrive in Islamabad on his call.


On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

Updated 7 min 17 sec ago

On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

  • Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari says Khan could not have foreseen the beginning of the war during his visit
  • Pakistani FM describes India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s status as an insult to the United Nations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday defended Imran Khan for visiting Moscow the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, saying the former prime minister could not have foreseen that the war was going to begin during his visit.

The timing of Khan’s trip to Russia annoyed Western nations who were trying to internationally isolate Putin’s administration for launching the war in his neighborhood. The heads of various foreign missions in Pakistan also wrote a joint letter to the country’s previous administration, urging it to condemn the Russian aggression in Ukraine soon after the invasion.

Pakistan’s new foreign minister, who is currently in New York to attend a global food security conference at the United Nations headquarters, told a news conference he would “absolutely defend” the former prime minister.

“Pakistan’s [former] prime minister conducted that trip as part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and without knowing … at the time that the current conflict would start,” he said. “I believe it is very unfair to punish Pakistan [for that visit].”

Pakistan’s foreign office also maintained in the past that Khan’s Russia visit had been in the making for a long time, adding it was not possible to postpone it shortly before it was scheduled to start.

The former prime minister, who was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month, said he was trying to pursue an independent foreign policy by strengthening relations with Russia and China which led to the downfall of his administration under an international conspiracy hatched by the United States.

His assertion has been repeatedly denied by US officials.

“Pakistan is not part of any conflict,” Bhutto-Zardari said while reiterating his country’s position on the war in Ukraine. “Pakistan would not wish to be part of any conflict. We would like emphasize on the importance of peace and dialogue.”

Asked about India’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region, he described it as an insult to the United Nations its Security Council resolutions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government annulled Kashmir’s special constitutional status on August 5, 2019, to annex the Muslim-majority state with the rest of the Indian union.

The administration in New Delhi more recently published a list of redrawn political constituencies for the Himalayan territory under its control earlier this month, giving greater representation to the region’s Hindu areas while paving the way for fresh elections.

“The actions of August 5, 2019, and May 5, 2022, by India in illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir is not only an insult to the people of Kashmir but is an insult to the United Nations and to the Security Council’s resolutions,” he said.


Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

Updated 19 May 2022

Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

  • The fires have affected different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in Pakistan’s southwest
  • National Disaster Management Authority helicopter arrived today to extinguish fire with little luck

QUETTA: A massive forest fire that has been raging for ten days in different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountains in southwest Pakistan intensified on Wednesday, with three people reported dead as provincial and federal disaster management authorities struggled late into Thursday to douse the flames.

The fire has consumed hundreds of trees dotting the Koh-e-Sulaiman — a mountain range connecting the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and forced residents of nearby villages to move to safer locations.

The Koh-e-Sulaiman region is home to the world’s largest Chilghoza (pine nuts) forest, annually producing about 640,000 kilograms of the edible seed. It also houses different species of animals and birds, including chukar partridges, ibex goats and rabbits, which are under threat from the fires.

The first fire started on May 9 in Musakhail district, lasting over a week and affecting pine nut trees in a 22 kilometers radius. The fire had barely died down when a second blaze erupted late on Wednesday in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani, with three locals killed as they tried to help in rescue operations.

“Three local residents who tried to extinguish the fire got killed,” the top administrative official of the area, Zhob division commissioner Bashir Bazai, told Arab News. “Four people are still stranded as the district administration is making efforts to retrieve the bodies and rescue the stranded individuals.”

Smoke engulfs a pine nut forest in the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Locals helping with the rescue operation said neither provincial nor federal authorities were equipped to handle the disaster.

“The federal and provincial departments dealing with the fire are not trained and equipped to extinguish the fire in the Saraghalai area since the flames are too high,” local activist Salmeen Khpalwak, who works on climate change and environmental protection projects in the area, told Arab News on Thursday. “The fire is heading toward villages and many families have migrated to safe locations.”

Firefighters and residents extinguish a fire that erupted in pine nut forest in district Musakhail in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Khpalwak said nearly 24 villages situated in the pine nut forest were currently in danger. He said the fire in Musakhail broke out during a thunderstorm when lightning hit but the reason behind the Saraghalai blaze was not yet known.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) sent a helicopter on Thursday to extinguish the fire, local officials said, though it was unable to put out the fire as it could not fly at a low altitude due to thick smoke and the mountainous terrain.

Muhammad Younus, who works with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said the NDMA had been requested to provide another helicopter due to the intensity of the fire.

“This morning, a helicopter splashed 3,500 liters of water fetched from the Sabakzai Dam about 45 kilometers away from the area engulfed in fire,” Atique Khan Kakar, a forest officer, told Arab News, “though it did not work.”


Amid economic crisis, Pakistan imposes ‘complete’ ban on imported cars, luxury items

Updated 19 May 2022

Amid economic crisis, Pakistan imposes ‘complete’ ban on imported cars, luxury items

  • Decision taken to “save precious foreign exchange,” PM Sharif says
  • Information minister says government has finalized fiscal management plan 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Thursday announced a complete ban on imported cars and non-essential items in a latest effort to tackle a growing economic crisis in the country.  

Pakistan is currently facing dwindling foreign exchange reserves, as its currency continues a downward spiral against the US dollar and a deal for the revival of a $6 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hangs in the balance.  

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced his decision to ban non-essential items, saying the move would help Pakistan save “precious foreign exchange.”

“We will practice austerity and financially stronger people must lead in this effort so that the less privileged among us do not have to bear this burden,” he tweeted.  

Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the government had finalized a fiscal management plan to deal with the economic crisis.  

“Yesterday, it was decided that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, all non-essential and luxury items will be banned completely,” she said. “These include food items, luxury items and all imported cars.”

Aurangzeb said Pakistan was currently facing “an emergency situation” and Pakistanis would see the impact of difficult decisions on foreign exchange reserves within two months.  

She said the government attached the highest priority to decreasing Pakistan’s dependency on imports and introducing an export-oriented economic policy.  

“Local industry, local producers and local industries in Pakistan will benefit from this [policy],” she said. “This economic plan will also promote employment in the country.”

The minister announced the government’s decision to ban imported mobile phones, home appliances, dry fruits, fruits, crockery items, private weapons, shoes and chandeliers.  

Other banned items include decoration pieces, sauces, frozen meat, sanitary ware, doors, window frames, fish, frozen fruits, carpets, reserved food items, tissue papers, furniture, makeup and shampoo items, confectionary, luxury mattresses and sleeping bags.