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minister says the government has assured the Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party all cases against its workers will be withdrawn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He said that all cases registered against the TLP workers would also be withdrawn, adding that he would give a detailed briefing on the development in a press conference later today.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.


Pakistan condemns life imprisonment sentence for top Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik

Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan condemns life imprisonment sentence for top Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik

  • Malik arrested by India’s anti-terror agency in 2019 which demanded death penalty for him
  • Agency has accused Malik of receiving funds from Pakistan to “carry out terrorist activities“

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistan condemned on Wednesday a verdict by an Indian court sentencing top Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik to life imprisonment in a ‘terror’ funding case. 

Malik, 56, is the head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), one of the first armed separatist groups in the Indian-controlled region that supported an independent and united Kashmir. The group gave up armed rebellion in 1994.

Malik was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in April 2019. The agency demanded the death penalty for him on charges of receiving funds from Pakistan to “carry out terrorist activities and stone-pelting during the Kashmir unrest.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Wednesday was “a black day for Indian democracy & its justice system.”

“India can imprison Yasin Malik physically but it can never imprison idea of freedom he symbolizes,” he tweeted.

The Pakistani military said it condemned the sentence awarded to Malik on “fabricated charges.”

“Such oppressive tactics cannot dampen the spirit of people of Kashmir in their just struggle against illegal Indian occupation,” it said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir. India has been accusing Pakistan of arming and training rebel groups to fight Indian forces — Pakistan denies it.

Pakistan’s foreign office on Wednesday summoned the Indian charge d’affaires in Islamabad over the court ruling against Malik and said in a statement it had “conveyed Pakistan’s strongest condemnation and rejection of the malafide conviction and sentencing of Hurriyat leader Mr. Yasin Malik in a grossly suspicious and contrived case.”

Malik himself rejected the charges when the court in New Delhi asked him to speak before it pronounced the sentence. 

“If I was a terrorist, then why had seven Prime Ministers of India come to meet me in the past?” he said. “If I was a terrorist, why was I given the opportunity to give lectures in different institutions all over the world including India?”

Pro-independence Kashmiri grouping All Parties Hurriyat Conference said Malik had since 1994 “pursued peaceful and democratic means of conflict resolution.”

“Yasin Malik actively participated in all negotiations held on Kashmir after 2000 under various regimes in New Delhi and Islamabad. Yet he was arrested, shifted to Tihar (prison) and has now been convicted in invented cases under draconian laws,” it said in a statement. 

Mehbooba Mufti, who served as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir before New Delhi amended the constitution and scrapped the former state’s autonomy in August 2019, said in reference to Yasin’s conviction that India’s “muscular policy” in Kashmir would “bear adverse results.” 

“Jammu and Kashmir is a political problem. A lot of people have been hanged here or given life imprisonment but it did not solve the Kashmir problem, it complicated the matter more,” she told reporters. “I think the muscular policy will have dire consequences, they will not solve the problems but create more.”


Pakistan reports fourth poliovirus case this year

Updated 52 min 14 sec ago

Pakistan reports fourth poliovirus case this year

  • All children infected by the crippling disease belong to Pakistan’s North Waziristan region
  • Health minister says parents must ensure their children are vaccinated against the disease

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health authorities on Wednesday confirmed fourth poliovirus case in the ongoing year, saying the disease has now paralyzed a 13-month-old boy in North Waziristan.

Young children under the age of five are considered extremely vulnerable to polio, though parents can protect them against its lifelong impact by building their immunity through vaccination.

Polio has been eliminated from the rest of the world, though Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to struggle with it.

“Another child in North Waziristan has been paralyzed by wild poliovirus. This 13-month-old child will live with disabilities for the rest of his life because of a virus that is entirely preventable. This is a collective loss for Pakistan,” said federal health minister Abdul Qadir Patel said in a statement.

“Over 99 percent of the world is now polio-free,” he added. “Our children also deserve a life free from this incurable disease.”

All children who have been infected by wild poliovirus this year belong to North Waziristan, where more cases are expected due to high refusal rates and instances of finger-marking without vaccination during campaign.

The Pakistan Polio Program has conducted emergency campaigns in the area, while children are administered the vaccine at all entry and exit points from southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the rest of the province and across the border to Afghanistan to control the spread of the virus.

“All parents must realize the risk that wild poliovirus continues to pose to children all over Pakistan. Please ensure that your children are vaccinated in the ongoing nationwide campaign being conducted in all 156 districts of the country,” Patel said.

Pakistan reported its first polio case this year on April 22, when a 15-month-old boy from the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan was found infected with the virus.

The case was reported after a gap of more than a year.

 


Pakistan’s top court instructs government to allow opposition rally near H-9 sector

Updated 25 May 2022

Pakistan’s top court instructs government to allow opposition rally near H-9 sector

  • The Supreme Court tells the government not to arrest Khan supporters in police raids
  • Government and Khan representatives have been instructed to hold consultations tonight

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday instructed the government to provide former prime minister Imran Khan’s political party a ground between Islamabad’s H-9 and G-9 sectors, reported the local media, to hold a protest demonstration while hearing a petition for the removal of road blocks in the federal capital.

The petition was filed by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association after the government blocked several roads in and around the capital to prevent the anti-government march initiated by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party which has been seeking dissolution of assemblies along with a date for fresh elections in the country.

The government also detained several PTI leaders and supporters in different Pakistani cities ahead of their scheduled march to Islamabad, making the court prevent the relevant authorities from making excessive use of force.

“The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the PTI to hold its Azadi March protest in the H-9 area of Islamabad and restrained the government from arresting party chairman Imran Khan,” reported Dawn newspaper.

It quoted the court as saying that it was “playing the role of the arbitrator,” adding the judges said no raids should be conducted on the homes of PTI workers.”

Pakistan’s Geo news channel said the three-member bench headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan demanded a plan that would allow PTI workers and followers to peacefully converge in the capital to register their protest before returning home.

The bench said it did not want the protesters to shut down places like Faizabad and the Motorway like in the past.

The court also instructed the government and PTI representatives to hold a meeting at the chief commissioner’s office tonight to work out the modalities of the protest demonstrations.


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

Updated 25 May 2022

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.”