Pakistan parliament postpones debate on expelling French envoy till Friday

A general view shows the Parliament House in Islamabad on April 20, 2021 during a special session to debate whether the country should expel the French ambassador, as the government bids to appease a radical party that has threatened more protests unless the envoy is expelled. (AFP photo)
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Updated 21 April 2021

Pakistan parliament postpones debate on expelling French envoy till Friday

  • Interior minister said the government had held negotiations with TLP leaders, who agreed to call off the protests 
  • Opposition members say need time to look into government-drafted resolution on the future of the French ambassador 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament has postponed until Friday a debate on whether the country should expel the French ambassador after a recently banned religious party threatened to stage more protests unless the envoy leaves.

The pressure to kick the ambassador out came from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party after French President Emmanuel Macron defended in February the right of a satirical magazine to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which is seen by many Muslims as blasphemous. The TLP last week held violent nationwide protests to force the government to honor what it said was a commitment made to it in February to expel France’s envoy before April 20.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video statement on Tuesday that TLP leaders had agreed to call off the protests after the government promised that a resolution on the expulsion of the ambassador would be discussed in parliament. He also said that all cases registered against protesting TLP workers would be withdrawn.

The ruling party presented the resolution at a special session of the National Assembly on Tuesday. Parliament speaker Asad Qaiser postponed discussion on the document until Friday to include input from opposition members who requested time to look into a government-drafted resolution on the issue.

“Issue of demand of expulsion of French ambassador be discussed,” the resolution read. “Issues pertaining to foreign policy shall remain right of the state and no party or group can exert any illegal pressure.”

The document also said that Muslim countries will be urged to take one stand against the publication of blasphemous content and the issue should be raised at all international forums.

The house also adopted a motion to form a special committee to further discuss the resolution before adopting it.

On Monday 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 blockade came after Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address that breaking diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the European Union and fuel poverty, unemployment and inflation in the country.

Violent protests by the rightwing group rocked the country since last week 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 (PBUH) 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 interior ministry said last week 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.

The riots also prompted the French embassy to recommend all its nationals to temporarily leave the country.


Pakistan and Britain to sign repatriation agreement on convicted criminals soon

Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

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.