Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador’s expulsion today 

Pakistani Muslims burn a French flag during a protest in Karachi on October 30, 2020, following French President Emmanuel Macron's comments over the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) caricatures. (AFP/ File photo)
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Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador’s expulsion today 

  • The interior minister says the government has assured the Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party all cases against its workers will be withdrawn
  • Lahore’s superintendent jail denies rumors of TLP chief Saad Rizvi’s release while talking to Arab News 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Tuesday it would present a resolution in the National Assembly later in the day for the expulsion of the French ambassador to meet the demand of a recently banned religious party in the country.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party held violent nationwide protests to force the government to honor what it said was a commitment made to it last February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in France.
“It is agreed between the government and TLP after negotiations that we will present a resolution in the National Assembly today for the expulsion of the French ambassador,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video statement early Tuesday.
The announcement comes after a government delegation, comprising the interior and religious affairs ministers, met the TLP leaders for negotiations in Lahore. The government representatives held at least three rounds of talks with the protesters to convince them to call off their demonstrations.
The interior minister said the TLP had agreed to end protests and sit-ins across the country.
“The process of negotiations will move forward,” he added.
He said that all cases registered against the TLP workers would also be withdrawn, adding that he would give a detailed briefing on the development in a press conference later today. 

The National Assembly will also meet at 3pm on Tuesday to debate the issue.
There were also rumors that TLP chief Saad Rizvi had been released from prison, though Lahore’s Superintendent Jail Asad Javed Warraich denied any such development while talking to Arab News.
Last night, the government closed all major roads in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with shipping containers, fearing the TLP workers may move toward the twin cities to hold anti-France protests.
The government has apparently shown flexibility in its stance to end TLP protests as Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address to the nation on Monday that breaking diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the European Union and fuel poverty, unemployment and inflation in the country.
“The biggest effect [of breaking ties with France] will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said, adding that breaking ties with France would amount to severing relations with the entire European Union.
“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said. “We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”
Violent protests by the rightwing group rocked the country since last Monday when TLP chief Saad Rizvi 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 (peace be upon him) published in France last year.
The protests paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the killing of six policemen, according to the government. Photographs of the police, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, were posted on social media by their captors through the week.
On Sunday, TLP said three of its members were killed during clashes outside the TLP headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The group also took a number of police officers and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 policemen in the early hours of Monday after negotiations with the government.
The riots also prompted the French embassy last week to recommend all its nationals to temporarily leave the country.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision was approved by the federal cabinet, thought it needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the official dissolution of the group.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed the blasphemous cartoons to his pupils during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.


Court orders recounting of Punjab CM election votes, minus de-seated dissident MPs

Updated 8 sec ago

Court orders recounting of Punjab CM election votes, minus de-seated dissident MPs

  • The prime minister’s son Hamza Shahbaz was elected CM of Pakistan’s largest province in mid-April
  • Election regulator in May de-seated 25 MPs from ex-PM Khan’s party who defected in favor of Shahbaz

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court on Thursday ordered the recounting of votes for the election of the Punjab chief minister held in April and won by Hamza Shahbaz, instructing that the votes of 25 dissident lawmakers who had defected from ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party and voted for Shahbaz be excluded from the counting process.

Shahbaz, who is the son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was elected chief minister of Pakistan’s largest and most populous Punjab province on April 16. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its allies boycotted the election and challenged the voting procedure in the court.

On May 20, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-seated 25 dissident PTI legislators who had voted for then opposition candidate Shahbaz in the Punjab CM election.

The top post in Punjab had fallen vacant after the resignation of former Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, a close Khan aide, in early April.

“The Presiding Officer (Deputy Speaker) of the election held on 16th April 2022 is, therefore, directed to recount votes after excluding 25 votes of the defecting members,” the court order said, saying voting should take place tomorrow, Friday.

If the required majority for Shahbaz, which is 186 votes in the 371-member strong house, to stay the CM is not secured, the election would be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate had majority votes, the court said.

According to Article 130(4), in the second round of voting, a member would not require 186 votes but simply needed a majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.

The court also said that Hamza Shahbaz would cease to be the chief minister if he lost the required majority after the exclusion of the 25 dissident votes by the presiding officer.

Following the de-seating of the 25 dissident lawmakers last month, Shahbaz, who had won the CM election with their help, had lost his majority in the Punjab Assembly, raising questions about the status of his government.

Shahbaz, a member of the now ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, got 197 votes in the chief minister’s election but was left with the support of 172 members in the house after the disqualification of the 25 MPs.

According to Article 63-A of the constitution, a parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he or she “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill.”

In a unanimous decision in May, ECP members said the PTI dissidents were being de-seated for defecting from the party under Article 63-A of the constitution. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its interpretation of Article 63-A, has said votes cast against the party direction “cannot be counted and must be disregarded.”

Former Punjab Assembly speaker Pervaiz Elahi, Khan’s candidate for CM, had filed a reference with the ECP against the dissident PTI lawmakers, requesting the electoral body to disqualify them for violating party discipline and deviating from its policy.


Pakistan PM reaffirms commitment to enhance security of Chinese nationals

Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan PM reaffirms commitment to enhance security of Chinese nationals

  • International media reports say China has asked Pakistan to allow its own security company to protect its nationals
  • Pakistan has set up a special desk at the ministry of interior to ensure the security of foreign nationals, especially Chinese

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a meeting with Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Thursday reaffirmed Islamabad’s commitment to enhance the security of Chinese nationals working in the country.

Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework that is a central part of China’s initiative to forge new “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

At the center of CPEC is the impoverished southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, where Beijing is building the port of Gwadar. Chinese engineers working at the port came under attack from an operation claimed by the separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) last year.

The BLA has claimed a number of major attacks in recent months, including a simultaneous storming of two paramilitary bases in Balochistan earlier this year and an attack outside a university in Karachi in which three Chinese nationals were killed. In July last year, a suicide bomber blew up a passenger bus in northern Pakistan that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese working on a hydro-power plant.

This week, reports in international media suggested following recent attacks China had asked Pakistan to allow it to use its own security company to protect its nationals and assets in Pakistan. The interior ministry did not respond to Arab News requests for comment.

In a meeting with Yang Jiechi, a high-ranking Chinese politician and diplomat, who is serving as a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, PM Sharif reiterated his strong condemnation of the attack outside the Karachi University and underscored Pakistan’s determination to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“He reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to enhanced measures for safety, security and protection of the Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in the country,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Pakistan has set up a special desk at the ministry of interior to ensure the security of foreign nationals, especially Chinese citizens. A 15,000-strong army division was set up in 2017 specifically to safeguard projects in the CPEC initiative.

Sindh raised a protection unit of about 2,600 police officers to help safeguard 4,000 Chinese working on CPEC projects, and another 1,000 working in other businesses. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province also conducted a census of Chinese nationals and raised a force of about 4,200 officers to protect foreigners.


As life-saving drugs disappear in Pakistan, pharma industry seeks tax break, price revision

Updated 30 June 2022

As life-saving drugs disappear in Pakistan, pharma industry seeks tax break, price revision

  • Industry reps say new sales tax on medicines will annually deprive them of Rs70 billion
  • Number of life-saving drugs unavailable in the market can go up to 200 within weeks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry has urged the government to abolish a newly imposed one percent sales tax and jack up prices of all medicines to overcome the shortage of over fifty life-saving drugs in the local market.

The new sales tax was included in Pakistan’s latest budget, approved by parliament this week. The government has been struggling to levy maximum direct and indirect taxes on different products and businesses to shore up its fragile economy and meet the conditions of the International Monetary Fund to revive a stalled $6 billion loan program.

“We strongly urge the government to withdraw one percent sales tax on medicines to keep the industry viable and overcome shortage of life-saving drugs in the market,” Qazi Mansoor Dilawar, chairman of Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association, told Arab News.

He said the supply of over fifty essential medicines had been disrupted in the market since manufacturers were importing the raw material to produce only those medicines that were profitable to them.

“Our input cost has escalated manifold in the last two years with the appreciation of dollar, increase in freight charges and international raw material, but the government is not willing to increase the prices of medicine,” he said.

The annual total pharmaceutical market in Pakistan is estimated to be around Rs700 billion. Pakistan imports much of the medicinal raw material from China and industrial experts say freight charges have increased around eight times since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January, the country’s ousted premier Imran Khan’s administration imposed a 17 percent sales tax on the import of raw material, promising that the amount would be refunded to pharmaceutical companies after the consumption of their stock.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has now withdrawn the 17 percent tax on the import of raw material, but levied one percent sales tax on all medicines.

“This one percent sales tax on medicines means the industry will be collectively paying Rs70 billion in tax this year,” Dilawar said.

Unlike other businesses, the pharma industry cannot increase medicines prices on its own since only the federal government is authorized to revise the rates of lifesaving drugs.

“We have a capping of every medicine and cannot increase their price on our own,” the association chief said, adding if the government failed to withdraw the sales tax and increase medicines prices, there would be a shortage of another two hundred drugs in the market within a couple of weeks.

The government has promised to look into the demands of pharmaceutical companies and address their concerns to ensure smooth supply of medicines in the market.

“We are well aware of the pharma industry’s demands and are trying to address them,” Sajid Hussain Shah, a spokesperson for the health ministry, told Arab News.

However, he warned that the ministry would initiate action in case medicines were hoarded to create an artificial shortage in the market.

“We are closely monitoring the medicine supply,” he said, “and won’t spare anyone who is found guilty of creating artificial shortage of medicines.”


Ahead of Eid, lumpy skin disease spreads fast among cattle in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 30 June 2022

Ahead of Eid, lumpy skin disease spreads fast among cattle in northwestern Pakistan

  • Influx of animals into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from other provinces has intensified problem, officials say
  • Provincial administration says willing to release more funds for procurement of vaccines for animals

PESHAWAR: The livestock department in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has ramped up efforts to control the spread of lumpy skin disease (LSD) among cattle ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, a senior official said on Wednesday, adding that he feared the influx of animals into the province from other areas of the country would unleash a larger outbreak of the disease.

The Eid Al-Adha holiday is one of the two most important festivals of the Islamic calendar. Marking the willingness of Ibrahim, or Abraham, to sacrifice his son on God’s command, Muslims mark the holiday by slaughtering animals such as sheep and goats. The meat is shared among family and friends and also donated to the poor.

Cattle markets across Pakistan, the second largest Muslim country in the world, fill up ahead of Eid, with thousands of animals brought to major livestock bazars across the country, including in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This year, the situation has.been complicated by breakouts of the lumpy skin disease that causes fever and multiple nodules on the skin and mucous membrane of animals. The virus was first reported in Punjab in October last year but later also spread among cattle in Sindh.

Prevalent in Africa since 1929, LSD is transmitted by bloodsucking insects like ticks and mosquitoes. It does not affect people and is rarely fatal.

“With the arrival of Eid Al-Adha, animals have been brought from Punjab and Sindh provinces and we fear the disease will spread further instead of being contained,” Sayed Asad Ali Shah, who works as epidemiologist with the livestock department, told Arab News.

He said precautionary measures, such as the formation of a task force and a cell for online reporting of the disease, had already been taken after LSD was first reported in Punjab and Sindh. Special checkpoints had been set up at various entry points of the province to keep infected animals from entering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he added.

However, the infection, which was previously reported in a few districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had now spread across the province.

“A total of 8,265 LSD cases were reported until Tuesday,” Shah said. “The disease has also claimed the lives of 203 animals.”

“After conducting a series of meetings, the government has released Rs100 million for vaccine procurement,” he said. “We have an estimated population of nine million cattle excluding buffaloes in the province. So far, we have vaccinated 135,761 animals and used anti-tick spray on millions of others.”

Speaking to Arab News, the provincial government spokesperson, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, said the government was working closely with the livestock department to adopt precautionary measures and release necessary funds to control the disease.

“This is a serious problem and the disease is partly spreading because of the buying and selling of animals ahead of Eid Al-Adha,” he said. “People should cooperate with the government to contain the spread of this viral disease. We will also release more funds to procure more vaccines to protect animals.”

But Rehmat Gul Miani, a resident of Gomal, a dusty village on the outskirts of southern Tank district, said several LSD cases had been reported in his area but authorities were not doing enough to vaccinate animals.

“Several animals in our neighborhood have been infected,” he said. “Livestock officials should take measures to contain the disease before Eid Al-Adha. Otherwise, people will be reluctant to buy sacrificial animals even at cheaper rates.”


Pakistan junior foreign minister calls for easing sanctions on Afghanistan

Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan junior foreign minister calls for easing sanctions on Afghanistan

  • Taliban takeover last year prompted foreign governments to cut aid
  • Strict enforcement of sanctions has debilitated Afghan banking sector

BERLIN: Pakistan’s junior foreign minister called for an easing of Western sanctions against Afghanistan under the Taliban government, saying the basic functioning of the Afghan economy must not be endangered.

The Taliban takeover last year prompted foreign governments, led by the United States, to cut development and security aid, and the strict enforcement of sanctions has debilitated the country’s banking sector.

In an interview with Germany’s Welt newspaper published on Thursday, junior foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said isolating Afghanistan economically was pushing the country into economic collapse.

“If the country remains locked out of international banking and its foreign assets remain frozen, then that is what will happen. We must not promote famine,” she added.

Khar said the Western troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which Germany was also involved, had serious repercussions because it was not preceded by a negotiated solution, calling on Germany to play an active political role in easing sanctions.

“In the current situation, it is not a good idea to continue to starve Afghanistan and risk an economic implosion in the country,” she said, adding that economic support was necessary to help the Afghan people.

“How is it that we spent $3 trillion on the war, but today don’t even have $10 billion on Afghan survival? I don’t understand this behavior,” she added.