PM Khan says religious party banned over violence, demands apology from Western 'extremists'

A bystander listens to Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the nation on television, in Karachi on March 4, 2021 (AFP /File photo)
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Updated 18 April 2021

PM Khan says religious party banned over violence, demands apology from Western 'extremists'

  • Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik protesting since Monday to demand leader’s release, call on government to expel French ambassador
  • TLP and other religious parties have denounced France since October last year saying it defended blasphemy as freedom of expression

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a rightwing religious political party that has held violent nationwide protests this week over blasphemous French cartoons, was being banned for using violence against law enforcers and citizens, but added that “extremists” in the West who hurt the sentiments of Muslims also needed to apologize.

Protests erupted in Pakistan on Monday, and quickly turned violent, after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore, a day after he threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) published in France last year.

On Thursday, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the 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.

“Let me make clear to people here & abroad: Our govt only took action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence & attacking the public & law enforcers. No one can be above the law and the Constitution,” the PM said in a series of tweets.

However, the PM also called out “extreme right politicians” in the West who he said deliberately hurt the sentiments of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims in the name of freedom on speech: “We demand an apology from these extremists.”

In October last year, 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 (PBUH) 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 said it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament.

A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20.

The TLP 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. The party 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 and Britain to sign repatriation agreement on convicted criminals soon

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistan and Britain to sign repatriation agreement on convicted criminals soon

  • According to Radio Pakistan, the understanding was reached during a meeting between the Pakistani interior minister and British high commissioner
  • Pakistani authorities have frequently pledged to bring back the country’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from London

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United Kingdom have decided to finalize and sign an agreement for the repatriation of convicted citizens and criminals at the earliest, reported the state-owned Radio Pakistan on Tuesday.
The understanding was reached between the two sides during a meeting between Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and British high commissioner Christian Turner in Islamabad.
The two countries have been negotiating a criminal extradition treaty for the last several years.
The Pakistani authorities have frequently pledged to bring back the country’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from Britain who was found guilty in a corruption reference by an accountability court and sentenced to prison for 10 years in December 2018.
Sharif began his prison term in Pakistan but was temporarily released on medical bail and flew out to London in November 2019.
Since then, he has not returned to his country.
“It was realized that the agreement is in the interest of both the countries and there is a need to accelerate progress on it,” the Radio Pakistan said. “The two sides were also of the view that bilateral agreements will further strengthen cooperation between the two countries.”
The Pakistani interior minister said his country attributed immense importance to its ties with the UK.
The British high commissioner also acknowledged the “friendly and multi-faceted relationship” between the two countries while appreciating Pakistan’s assistance with the evacuation of foreign nationals from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021.


Pakistan imported over $2 billion of coronavirus vaccines – information minister

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistan imported over $2 billion of coronavirus vaccines – information minister

  • Chaudhry Fawad Hussain says unvaccinated people are suffering more due to the spread of the omicron variant
  • Pakistan reported over 5,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, taking the ICU occupancy rate up by 30 percent

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said on Tuesday the country had imported over $2 billion of coronavirus vaccines to protect people from the debilitating respiratory disease amid a rising current account deficit.
Addressing a news conference after the federal cabinet meeting, he said the government examined the COVID-19 situation caused by the spread of the omicron strain.
Pakistan’s top pandemic response body announced earlier in the day the country had reported 5,034 new cases of coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, taking the overall positivity ratio to 9.45 percent. It also informed that 827 COVID-19 patients were in critical care across Pakistan.
Hussain told the media the federal cabinet evaluated the pandemic situation along with the official vaccination campaign.
“Pakistan has imported more than $2 billion of vaccines to immunize its people,” he said. “The import of medicine had a major impact on our current account deficit as well.”

Pakistan's information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain addresses a press conference after the federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 18, 2022. (Photo courtesy: PID)

The minister emphasized it was important to get vaccinated amid rising number of new infections.
“Those who are fully vaccinated and have received booster shots are only negligibly affected by omicron,” he continued. “However, those who are not inoculated are suffering from this strain a lot more.”
According to a statement released by the Prime Minister Office after the meeting, the country’s planning minister Asad Umar gave a detailed briefing to the federal cabinet on the spread of the omicron variant, saying the number of current cases had increased to 5,000 per day while the hospitalization rate had increased by 2.5 times.
He added that the number of patients had gone up by 30 percent in intensive care units in Pakistan.
The statement said the cabinet called for ensuring the implementation of health care guidelines in the country, including the use of face masks and vaccinations to prevent the spread of the omicron variant.
“However, the cabinet reiterated its commitment that the government would refrain from taking steps that would harm business and economic activity,” it added.


Government says central bank autonomy not without checks and balances

Updated 18 January 2022

Government says central bank autonomy not without checks and balances

  • The IMF wanted Pakistan to grant maximum independence to the central bank to end any possible political interference
  • A senior Pakistani minister says the oversight mechanism was built into the law after ‘hard negotiations’ with the lending agency

ISLAMABAD: A senior Pakistani minister on Tuesday criticized the opposition for making a legislation regarding the central bank’s autonomy controversial, saying the new law was not without checks and balances which were incorporated after “hard negotiations” with the International Monetary Fund.
The law was approved by the country’s national assembly last week and was enacted on the international financial institution’s insistence which had been demanding it to protect the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) from any political interference.
The IMF executive board is scheduled to review Pakistan’s progress in terms of the implementation of structural reforms under a $6 billion loan program and may release another tranche of $1 billion later this month.
Pakistan’s energy minister Hammad Azhar told a news conference in Islamabad that central banks were always kept autonomous in the world since there was enough evidence that it allowed developed nations to bring down inflation and ensure economic growth.
“The federal government will appoint the central bank’s board of directors whose members can even remove the state bank governor,” he said, adding: “We managed to secure this concession of appointing the state bank board along with its governor and deputy governor from the IMF after hard negotiations.”
Azhar maintained previous administrations tried to influence central bank officials while dictating them how to manage the county’s monetary policy.
He added a similar bill was also suggested in 2015 by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party wherein it was willing to surrender all its powers to the central bank board.
The minister noted the government had brought about a comprehensive reform in the area which was also “demanded by serious Pakistani economists for a substantially long period.”
Refuting the opposition’s criticism over the law, he said it was only going to strengthen the country’s economy and ensure sustained growth momentum.


Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

Updated 18 January 2022

Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

  • General Nadeem Raza says defense cooperation between the two countries will have a positive impact on regional peace and security
  • Pakistan and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2020 to enhance military cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Commander Royal Navy of Oman Rear Admiral Saif bin Nasser bin Mohsen Al-Rahbi on Tuesday met with Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza in Rawalpindi and discussed ways of improving bilateral military cooperation, the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement.
A day earlier, the Omani official held a meeting with Pakistan’s Naval Chief Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi in Islamabad to discuss bilateral defense ties.
Pakistan and Oman have always maintained a close relationship and the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to increase military cooperation in October 2020.
In his meeting with General Raza, Al-Rahbi discussed “security and regional issues and matters related to enhancing the level and scope of bilateral military engagements and cooperation in various fields between the two brotherly countries,” the ISPR read.
The statement noted that General Raza “emphasized the need to further enhance the existing defense and security cooperation and said that Pakistan-Oman cooperation will have a positive impact on peace and security in the region.”
“The visiting dignitary remained appreciative of the role of the Pakistan Armed Forces in building the capacity of Oman Armed Forces. He also acknowledged the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war against terrorism,” it added.
Last week, Pakistani naval ships Rah Naward and Madadgar visited Oman’s Port Sultan Bin Qaboos along with Hamza submarine as part of overseas deployment.
“During the port stay, various bilateral activities including exchange visits onboard afloat units, orientation visits of military installations and coordination meetings were undertaken,” the Pakistan Navy said.


Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

  • Outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the ‘attack’ near the city’s famous G-9 market 
  • TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD: A policeman and two suspects were killed in a shootout in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad late Monday, in what the country’s interior minister described as a “terrorism incident.”
Two assailants opened fire at police officers standing guard near a market in G-9 sector, the police said, which triggered a shootout that killed an officer and both gunmen. Two policemen were injured in the attack, who were shifted to hospital.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Tuesday said the deceased suspects were “terrorists” and the shootout was actually an attack.
“Munawwar Shaheed, head constable, was on duty and the terrorists opened a burst on him. This wasn’t a burglary or robbery,” Ahmed said.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed places a wrath on the coffin of a policeman who lost his life in a gun attack in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (Islamabad Police)

“This is a kind of a signal we have got that terrorism incidents have begun in Islamabad. This is the first incident of this year and we need to be very alert.”

He said the authorities had located the "terrorist sleeper cell" in Misrial, a Rawalpindi neighborhood some 20 kilometers from Islamabad.

“This is purely a terrorism issue,” Ahmed added.

Policemen pay tribute beside the coffin of a police officer who was killed in an overnight gunmen attack during the funeral ceremony in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (AFP)

Militants have often targeted security forces in Pakistan’s southern Balochistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, but attacks like this have been a rarity in Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the “attack” in a statement.
The TTP is a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with its own brand of Islamic Shariah law.
Last month, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire arranged with the aid of the Afghan Taliban, accusing the Pakistan government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.