Major social media outlets blocked to ‘maintain public order’ — Pakistan telecoms authority

Pakistani pedestrians wait for transport as they stand in front of an advertisement for a cellular telephone in Rawalpindi on May 14, 2010. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 April 2021

Major social media outlets blocked to ‘maintain public order’ — Pakistan telecoms authority

  • “In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications restricted temporarily,” PPTA spokesperson says
  • Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok and Telegram blocked on orders of PTA, Internet service provider says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan blocked multiple social media apps temporarily on security grounds on Friday as part of what is believed to be a crackdown against a religious political party that has held violent nationwide protests this week, a telecommunications authority official said, while a major Internet service provider in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad sent text messages to its users apologizing for the “inconvenience.” 
Pakistan Internet users had difficulty accessing apps including What, Facebook, You tube and Twitter from late on Friday morning, Reuters said. 
The Internet blockade comes as Pakistan said this week it would outlaw the religious political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan after the arrest of its leader on Monday sparked major nationwide protests. Rizvi and his supporters are calling on the government to expel the French ambassador over cartoons published in France depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
“In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications has been restricted temporarily,” Khurram Mehran, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) told Arab News, without specifying which social media.
Internet, cable TV and phone service provider Nayatel, based in Islamabad, sent text messages to users saying:
“On directions by PTA, below mentioned social media platforms have been blocked. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. YouTube. TikTok. Telegram. Inconvenience is regretted.”
Usama Khilji, a director at digital advocacy group Bolo Bhi, said it was “against the constitution to suspend people’s access to information by blocking social media just because of a group and in the name of law and order.”
“Also, this isn’t a wise security strategy to suspend Internet because this won’t send protesters home, instead it will project a bad image of our country abroad,” he told Arab News. 
Nighat Dad at the Digital Rights Foundation said: 
“What kind of national emergency we are dealing with that government banned entire social media temporarily? These arbitrary decisions of blocking and banning have never done any good instead opened ways to blanket bans.”


In dig at Imran Khan, PM says protest demonstrations cannot ‘fix’ national economy

Updated 7 sec ago

In dig at Imran Khan, PM says protest demonstrations cannot ‘fix’ national economy

  • PM criticizes the last government for leaving a ‘sinking economy’
  • Sharif says Khan sit-in delayed Chinese President Xi’s visit in 2014

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday criticized ex-premier Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for launching an anti-government campaign at a time of economic uncertainty, saying the financial challenges of the country could not be addressed through protest demonstrations.

Addressing a group of Chinese nationals working on a hydropower project on the Jhelum River, the prime minister, who was sworn in last month after Khan was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, said the last administration had handed over a “sinking economy” to his government after three and a half years in power.

He said his team was working day and night to deal with Pakistan’s economic challenges, including rising inflationary pressure.

“Now that we are trying to fix things, what kind of message are they giving [to the world] with such protests,” he asked, referring to Khan’s anti-government long march to the federal capital. “Can you improve the economy through sit-ins?”

The prime minister recalled that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled visit to Pakistan in September 2014 had to be postponed due to a similar demonstration by Khan’s PTI party in Islamabad.

“We beseeched [the PTI leadership] to call off their sit-in for three days to ensure the completion of President Xi’s visit,” he continued, “but Imran Khan remained obdurate, and the planned trip was delayed.”

Sharif said it was important to learn from past mistakes and give up a political attitude detrimental to Pakistan’s interests.
Khan has held several public rallies in recent weeks to call for fresh elections.

On Sunday he asked party supporters to join him in Islamabad on Wednesday for a sit-in to mount pressure on the government to announce a date for new elections.

The government has said Khan is trying to “sabotage” the economy by making it difficult for it to


‘Recipe for disaster’: Experts say political turmoil jolting economy as dollar hits historic low

Updated 25 May 2022

‘Recipe for disaster’: Experts say political turmoil jolting economy as dollar hits historic low

  • Pakistan’s economic woes compounded by anti-government march to capital by ex-PM Imran Khan
  • Rupee closes at Rs201.92 against US dollar, stock market traded 300 points below previous closing

KARACHI: Political turmoil in Pakistan over an opposition long march and uncertainty about the revival of a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program are continuing to jolt the country’s local currency, as the rupee hit another historic low against the United States dollar on Wednesday, closing at Rs201.92.

Pakistan’s economic woes have been compounded by an anti-government march to the capital announced by former prime minister Imran Khan. Clashes between Khan’s supporters and law enforcers on Wednesday have dampened investor confidence, economists and experts said.

On Wednesday, the country’s stock market also traded 300 points below the previous closing.

“The political noise and delay in the IMF [deal] has been affecting investor confidence. This is why the stock market and rupee are falling. Clarity on both will help restore confidence,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of the brokerage company Topline Securities, told Arab News. 

The rupee was expected to show some recovery after the Saudi minister of finance said on Tuesday the kingdom was finalizing extending a $3 billion deposit to Pakistan. 

“The market was expected to depict some positive sentiments [after Saudi announcement] but the current political situation overshadowed it,” Samiullah Tariq, director of research at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Pakistani economists and financial experts said the current political turmoil in the country was wreaking havoc on an already fragile economy. 

“The mayhem created by the call for the long march, coupled with [the government’s] unwise and violent means to stop PTI supporters, are going to completely wreck the already rustic and dysfunctional economic ship of Pakistan,” Dr. Ikram ul Haq, a Lahore-based financial expert, told Arab News. 

“With foreign reserves left for less than two months and the rupee plunging to the lowest in history by crossing the psychological barrier of 200, the call for the long march and the way it is being handled, is going to provide a sure recipe for disaster,” he added. 

Economic experts also say a nearly $1.5 billion fuel and electricity subsidy announced by the last government of Khan was proving to be an “economic land mine” for the current administration.

“The current economic crisis, whether it relates to the delay in the IMF program and fiscal stress, is to a large extent created by the outgoing government which laid economic land mines in the form of petroleum subsidies,” Dr. Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The current economic problems and political uncertainty have been inherited by the incumbent government but its indecisiveness has further compounded the situation,” he added. 

Pakistan is currently negotiating with the IMF to secure around $3 billion needed to stabilize its economy, marred by an ongoing political crisis, rising trade and fiscal deficit, and depleting foreign-exchange reserves, which at $10.2 billion, are not enough to cover even two months of imports. 

“The outgoing government, sensing that it was about to go, had announced the relief package to push the incoming government in troubling waters and [had also] frozen petroleum prices, which was not possible,” Amin said. “It has distorted the IMF program. Now the incumbent government is not removing the subsidies, fearing a political cost.”

Negotiations with the international money lender come at a time when Pakistan is battling the second-fastest inflation rate in Asia at 13.4 percent. To sail through the IMF deal, the country has to make the politically tough decision of raising fuel prices to ensure financial viability. 

“Already burdened with the unbearable fuel subsidy left by the PTI coalition government, those at the helm of affairs are making sure that the state loses its financial viability,” said Haq. 

Muzzamil Aslam, PTI’s spokesperson on finance, denied political rallies were destabilizing the economy. 

“It is the indecisiveness of the current government,” he said, “which is responsible for the economic turmoil.” 


Pilot safely ejects as air force trainer aircraft crashes near Mianwali city

Updated 25 May 2022

Pilot safely ejects as air force trainer aircraft crashes near Mianwali city

  • Pakistan’s armed forces have suffered several air accidents in recent years
  • In March, another PAF trainer aircraft crashed on training mission, two pilots killed

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistan Air Force (PAF) training aircraft crashed on Wednesday near the city of Mianwali during a routine training mission, PAF said, adding that the pilot had ejected safely.

In March this year, another PAF trainer aircraft crashed while on a training mission in the country’s northwest, killing the two pilots on board,

In another crash in March 2020, a PAF F-16 fighter jet crashed in a parade ground in the capital, Islamabad, killing the pilot as he was rehearsing for a Pakistan Day air show.

“Pilot ejected safely while no loss of life or property was reported on the ground,” PAF said about Wednesday’s crash. “A Board of Inquiry has been ordered by Air Headquarters to determine the cause of the incident.”

Pakistan’s armed forces have suffered several air accidents in recent years. A crash killed a female jet pilot in another training exercise in November 2015.

In May 2015, a military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourism project crashed, killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines.

Another military helicopter being used as an air ambulance crashed in August 2015 near the northern district of Mansehra, killing 12 people.


Pakistani FM meets Saudi counterpart, GCC general secretary on WEF sidelines

Updated 25 May 2022

Pakistani FM meets Saudi counterpart, GCC general secretary on WEF sidelines

  • WEF returned to Davos on Monday this week with multiple threats to the global economy topping the agenda
  • World leaders flagged risk of worldwide recession, conflict in Ukraine, global oil supply crunch and climate change

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday held separate meetings with his Saudi counterpart as well as the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

The World Economic Forum returned to Davos on Monday this week with multiple threats to the global economy topping the worries of the world’s well-heeled, with leaders flagging the risk of a worldwide recession, the conflict in Ukraine, a global oil supply crunch, and climate change.

“Bhutto Zardari met with His Highness Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, today,” the foreign office said in a statement.

“The Foreign Minister paid tribute to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for achieving new heights of progress and development of the Kingdom under their visionary leadership.”

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (L) meets his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, May 25, 2022. (APP)

 The two ministers expressed satisfaction over their “excellent bilateral partnership” and resolved to strengthen it. They also discussed regional and global issues.

The foreign minister also separately met Dr. Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajjraf, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), on the sidelines of the WEF.

“The Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General reviewed the status of Pakistan’s cooperation with GCC and its member states,” the foreign office said.

“The Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General agreed to explore further avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and economic ties between Pakistan and the GCC as well as to strengthen institutional linkages, in line with the Joint Action Plan for Strategic Dialogue,” the statement said. “On Pakistan-GCC Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the two sides expressed determination to conclude the negotiations at the earliest possible.”


Ex-PM Khan denies deal with government, says will rally in Islamabad until elections announced

Updated 14 min 3 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan denies deal with government, says will rally in Islamabad until elections announced

  • Video circulating on social media and broadcast on TV showed police clashing with protesters in Lahore and Islamabad
  • Pakistani authorities used shipping containers and trucks to block off major roads into capital, marchers push through hurdles

ISLAMABAD: Clashes between anti-government protesters and police continued in major Pakistani cities on Tuesday as former prime minister Imran Khan set out to the capital for a demonstration he hopes will bring down the government and force early elections, denying reports of a deal with the administration and saying he would rally until fresh elections were called.

Khan was removed from office in a vote of no-confidence last month after losing his majority in parliament. The former premier has alleged his ouster was part of a Washington-backed foreign conspiracy and refused to recognize the new government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The US has denied the allegations. 

Since his ouster, Khan has held public rallies across Pakistan, demanding early elections. Last Sunday he announced he would lead a massive rally to the capital and hold a sit-in there until the government announced a date for polls. The government on Tuesday said it would not let Khan’s march enter Islamabad on the grounds that it aimed to spread “chaos and anarchy” in the country. 

After media reports that Khan’s party had reached an agreement with the government, Khan posted “absolutely not” on Twitter.

“We are moving toward Islamabad & no question of any deal. We will remain in Islamabad till announcement of dates for dissolution of assemblies & elections are given.”

“God willing we have to reach D-Chowk Islamabad, no hurdle can stop us,” Khan said in an address to supporters in Swabi en route Islamabad, referring to a famous town square in the capital that has been a common destination for protest marches.

On Wednesday morning and well into the afternoon, D-Chowk area wore a deserted look, sealed off with containers and guarded by a large contingent of Punjab and Islamabad Police.

At one point, around 20 PTI supporters appeared and chanted in favor of Khan but were chased by police, batons in hand.

After brief negotiations, the protesters dispersed and the police officers sat under some trees and had lunch. Other police officers were immersed in their cell phones, following the latest developments and asking media correspondents present for inputs.

One woman, a PTI supporter, walked up to a small group of officers and said she would be back in the evening to join the protest.

“You won’t fire at us, will you?” she asked jokingly.

The police officers smiled and said they wouldn’t.

CLASHES, ROAD BLOCKS

Videos circulating on social media and broadcast on local TV channels showed police clashing with protesters in Lahore and Islamabad, with Punjab police using tear gas on demonstrators in Lahore and baton charging them in the capital.

PTI supporters and police also clashed in Gujranwala when the latter tried to stop protesters with barricades but the marchers forced their way through the obstructions.

According to PTI’s Gujranwala General Secretary Tariq Gujjar, 150 people from the caravan had been taken into custody.

Police use tear gas to disperse supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of ousted prime minister Imran Khan during a protest in Lahore on May 23, 2022. (AFP)

All major roads linking the Punjab province with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from where Khan started his march were blocked with barricades. Police and district officials blocked the GT Road highway with shipping containers over the Attock Khurd Bridge which marks the border between Punjab and KP. Media reported intense tear gas shelling on the bridge by anti-riot police in the late afternoon on Wednesday.

The motorway M1 connecting the two provinces was also blocked off and other motorways traversing Punjab, including M2, were blocked at several places.

Police use tear gas to disperse activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of ousted prime minister Imran Khan during a protest in Lahore on May 25, 2022, as all roads leading into Pakistan's capital were blocked ahead of a major protest planned by ousted prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters. (AFP)

Section 144, which bans large public gatherings, was imposed on Tuesday in Lahore, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and Karachi, as well as other major cities in the country, while the Punjab government has called in the paramilitary Rangers to keep law and order. Pakistani authorities have also used dozens of shipping containers and trucks to block off major roads into the capital.

Policemen use batons to hit an activist (C) of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of ousted prime minister Imran Khan during a protest in Lahore on May 25, 2022, ahead of a major protest planned by ousted prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters in Islamabad. (AFP)

Former Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood from Khan’s PTI said police had raided his house in the early morning hours of Wednesday.

“Police barged into my house without a warrant while I was not there. Do they really think these tactics would intimidate us?”

Meanwhile, PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhary was arrested after the Punjab government said weapons were recovered from the vehicles of PTI’s Lahore office bearers.

An admin for Chaudhry’s account tweeted:

A number of other PTI office bearers were also arrested.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing today, Wednesday, a hurriedly-moved petition seeking the removal of roadblocks and barricades and the free movement of residents to and in the federal capital. The court has asked Khan’s party and the government to agree on an alternate location instead of D-Chowk and inform the court. It has also ordered the government to remove all blockades and release arrested PTI supporters.