Journalists cry foul as Pakistan plans to establish new media authority 

Journalists stand maintaining social distancing in a demonstration to mark the World Press Freedom Day during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Islamabad on May 3, 2020. (AFP/ FILE)
Short Url
Updated 01 June 2021

Journalists cry foul as Pakistan plans to establish new media authority 

  • Pakistan Media Development Authority will try cases in special tribunals whose verdicts can only be appealed in Supreme Court 
  • Federal journalists’ union, Pakistan Bar Association, civil society bodies say the ordinance aims to institutionalize censorship 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government is planning to pass an ordinance that will repeal the country’s existing media laws and establish a new Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) that will try media-related cases in special tribunals whose verdicts can only be appealed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance, 2021, has rattled journalists and rights advocates who fear it could be used to stifle dissent and free speech and institutionalize censorship.
According to a copy of the ordinance available with Arab News, it aims to create an “independent, efficient, effective, and transparent” institution to regulate all forms of media and bring them under a single and converged regulator and statutory authority.
The new regulator will oversee films and monitor electronic, print and digital media, including Web TV, over-the-top content platforms and news websites.
The ordinance proposes to repeal all current media related laws including The Press Council Ordinance 2002, The Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002, the Newspaper Employees, (Conditions of Services Acts) 1973, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and The Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979.
Farrukh Habib, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, told Arab News a copy of the proposed ordinance had been distributed among media associations and civil society organizations for review before it was sent to the Pakistani president for final approval and then enforced in the country.
“It is under discussion with stakeholders, like media persons right now,” Habib said on Monday, adding that the ordinance would be presented to the president for approval “after meaningful discussions with all relevant stakeholders.”
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Pakistan Bar Association have jointly rejected the proposed ordinance as an attempt to impose “media martial law” in the country and institutionalize censorship.
The draft law says that “any licensee and registered entity, declaration and NOC [no objection certificate] holder or person who violates or abets the violation of any of the provision of this Ordinance shall be guilty of offense punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend up to twenty-five million rupees or with both.”
The authority can act against any individual or media outlet under its jurisdiction without issuing a show cause notice and affording them an opportunity for a hearing, according to the draft. The proposed authority or its chairman may also order in writing to seize the equipment of a media organization or seal the premises of the licensee.
Any person aggrieved by a decision or order of the authority can file an appeal within 30 days, which will be decided by media tribunals within 45 days. Under the new law, only the Supreme Court of Pakistan can hear appeals against the tribunals’ verdicts.
The licensees will also be bound not to broadcast, distribute or put anything online which may be deemed as defamatory or ridicule the head of state, officials of the armed forces or members of the legislative and judicial organs of the state.
“The proposed law is draconian in scope and devastating in its impact on the constitutional principles and guarantees of freedom of expression, media freedoms and the right to information as well as the profession of journalism,” PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfiqar said, vowing to resist the government’s attempt to “silence the media.”
“The government has already imposed a major censorship regime on mainstream media and now wants to extend it from TV, radio and print to online journalism,” Zulfiqar added.
Journalist and talk show host Munizae Jahangir said it was against the spirit of the constitution that the proposed law allowed only the Supreme Court to hear appeals against tribunal verdicts.
“How can you take away a right of appeal from an aggrieved person,” she said. “God forbid, if this law is implemented, then only those who pursue the state narrative will be recognized as journalists.”
Syed Amjad Shah, former vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, said the draft law was designed to help sitting governments “crush independent journalists and curtail freedom of press” in Pakistan.
“This law will further suppress the freedom of expression and freedom of press in the country,” he told Arab News. “We are opposing this ordinance and hopefully the government will also drop it.”

Pakistan, China to add Karachi coastal development plan to CPEC project

Updated 26 September 2021

Pakistan, China to add Karachi coastal development plan to CPEC project

  • Move a ‘game changer’ for the country, Pakistan’s maritime ministry says
  • Planning Minister Asad Umar reiterates Pakistan’s commitment to multibillion-dollar CPEC initiative

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad and Beijing have agreed to include a $3.5 billion coastal development project, in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan, Pakistan’s maritime ministry said in a statement.

An agreement for the Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone’s (KCCDZ) inclusion, termed a “game-changer” for Pakistan, was discussed during a meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), CPEC’s apex decision-making body, earlier this week.

The 10th JCC meeting, held after a hiatus of almost two years, was co-chaired by Pakistan’s Planning Minister Asad Umar and Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) deputy chief, Ning Jizhe. 

“A monumental decision was taken... on 23rd September 2021 at Islamabad and Beijing. The two countries agreed to include Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone (KCCDZ) under the CPEC framework,” the statement said.

“KCCDZ will unlock Pakistan’s unexplored Blue Economy and significantly enhance development and industrial cooperation between the two brotherly countries. KCCDZ is a game-changer for Pakistan,” it added.

The KCCDZ initiative, the “first of its kind even for CPEC,” is expected to be built with Chinese investment in partnership with the Karachi Port Trust (KPT).

Once ready, it will house a state-of-the-art fishing port with a world-class fisheries export processing zone to boost Pakistan’s trade potential, according to the statement.

“It would drastically improve the marine ecosystem and reduce pollution by establishing a water treatment plant at the mouth of the Lyari River,” it added.

The ambitious CPEC plan has seen Beijing pledge over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, central to China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.

Earlier this week, Umar said Pakistan’s government was “fully committed” to CPEC and considered it critical for its growth and development.

For Pakistan’s Sindh, drying up of second largest reservoir both a blessing and curse

Updated 26 September 2021

For Pakistan’s Sindh, drying up of second largest reservoir both a blessing and curse

  • Chotiari reservoir, which irrigates 290,000 acres of land in Sanghar and Umerkot districts, is touching “almost dead level”
  • Some landlords say reduction in water level is blessing as water from reservoir has caused waterlogging and soil salinity in surroundings

SANGHAR: The Chotiari water reservoir, the second largest water storage facility in Pakistan’s Sindh province, is facing acute shortages and touched an “almost dead level” due to low monsoon rains this year, a senior Sindh irrigation official said on Friday.

While the development has been widely seen as a threat to the availability of drinking and irrigation water in the southern province, experts as well as some farmers described it as a blessing, saying the artificial lake had caused major waterlogging and soil salinity in its surroundings and thus destroyed agricultural land.

The Chotiari reservoir is situated on the edge of Pakistan’s Achhro Thar, or white desert, in Sanghar district bordering India. Historically, the Chotiari was a complex of deep lakes and riverine Makhi forests. It was turned into a reservoir in 2002.

A view of the gates of the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Lake Manchar, the largest natural freshwater lake in Pakistan, which is in Sindh’s Dadu and Jamshoro districts, has remained empty for over two decades, making the Chotiari reservoir, with a storage capacity of 0.71 million acre feet, a major source of drinking and irrigation water in the region.

Today, the water body is nearing an “almost dead level,” said Mansoor Memon, the Chotiari reservoir project director from the Sindh Irrigation Department. 

If upper parts of the country did not receive enough rains in the ongoing monsoon season, he warned, water shortage in command areas of the reservoir could increase by up to 30 percent.

Already, the cultivation of kharif crops — planted February onwards and harvested till September — in the Chotiari reservoir command area has been reduced to half by the season ending September-end. And if rain patterns remain the same, the upcoming rabi, or spring harvest, will also see dangerously low crop yields, raising fears of food insecurity given that wheat is a major rabi crop.

An empty boat at the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Prior to monsoon rains, it [water level in the reservoir] had reduced to 5 feet, touching almost dead-level,” Memon told Arab News, saying it was currently at 8 feet.

“If rainfall occurs as per forecast, we will touch the 15-feet level by November, which we call comfort level,” the official explained, saying if there were not enough rains and water continued to be supplied to the reservoir at existing levels from the Indus river, “we would face 30 percent water shortage in command areas in just the rabi season.”

The reservoir is filled through the Nara canal, the longest canal in Pakistan, which runs for about 364 kilometers, and irrigates 290,000 acres of land in the Sanghar and Umerkot desert districts. It fills up during the kharif season that falls between April and September.

However, fresh satellite and classified images obtained from the Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam (SAUT) show that 83 percent of the reservoir is empty.

Landlord Abdul Khaliq Junejo poses with his sesame crop in the surrounding area of the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 17, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“On the basis of classified images, we can say that on September 09, 2021, 93 percent of the Chotiari reservoir area was empty,” Prof Dr. Altaf Ali Siyal, an SAUT director for research, innovation and commercialization, told Arab News.

“With the arrival of water in the River Indus because of the monsoon, the situation improved slightly on September 18, 2021 and Chotiari was 83 percent empty. In the command area, Chotiari water is useful especially during rabi that starts from October or so,” he said, predicting severe water shortage in the reservoir’s lower Nara Canal command area in the upcoming rabi season.

Hajji Muhammad Shafi Palli, a 55-year-old grower from Umerkot district’s Kunri area, said he had cultivated cotton, pearl millet and sesame in the outgoing Kharif season, but his yield was half of the usual average produce.

His 40 acres (16 hectares) of agriculture land is fed through the Chotiari reservoir tributaries, covering around 150 kilometers. Palli and other growers in the area have already received an advisory from authorities for the upcoming rabi season starting October, with warnings to limit cropping area depending on water availability in the Chotiari reservoir and the volume of rain in the River Indus catchment area.

“After advisory, I fear that I may have to limit wheat production to four acres (1.6 hectares) as compared to my last year’s 20 acres of cultivation area,” Palli told Arab News. “Similarly, I would have to reduce other crops like mustard.”

But some are happy the reservoir is drying up.

Abdul Khaliq Junejo, 60, who owns 25 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the Chotiari reservoir, said a reduction in its water level was a blessing since water from the reservoir had been causing major waterlogging in its surroundings.

A boat is anchored in front of the Bakar Lake Resort at the Chotiari water reservoir in Sindh's Sanghar district, Pakistan, on September 19, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Indeed, a 2019 study by the University of Nevada, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Pakistan’s Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Jamshoro said the Chotiari reservoir had caused major water logging, soil salinity and negative vegetation in the adjacent areas of the structure.

“I was able to cultivate a sesame crop this year after a gap of three years as the water level went low,” Junejo said.

According to Junejo and other growers, at the time of the reservoir’s construction, authorities promised to ensure the extraction of seepage water through tube wells and pumping stations, but these promises are yet to be fulfilled.

“Not a single tube well is working and there is no arrangement of seepage water management,” Junejo said. “As a result, there is hardly one crop all year, which has resulted in mass unemployment. Most locals have been forced to stop cultivating their own lands and migrate to other areas to work on others’ lands.”

Chotiari reservoir project director Memon acknowledged the complaints.

“Reduction of water in the Chotiari reservoir also means a blessing in disguise for the surrounding areas,” he said. “There is a scheme of 100 tube wells for the associated work of Chotiari reservoir seepage water extraction, but all tube wells are not functional because of electricity-related issues.”

Pakistan waives duty on fruits imported from Afghanistan

Updated 26 September 2021

Pakistan waives duty on fruits imported from Afghanistan

  • Taliban government welcomes the decision and calls for more bilateral trade
  • Disrupted imports of fruits from Afghanistan have recently led to an increase in their prices in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has waived import taxes on Afghan fruits to help the neighbor’s traders and farmers, Islamabad’s special representative for Afghanistan said on Saturday.

Disrupted by the volatile situation in Afghanistan since last month’s Taliban takeover and collapse of the country’s previous administration, imports of fruits and vegetables from the neighboring country have recently led to an increase in their prices on Pakistani markets.

Effective from Saturday, the tax waiver in on fresh fruit produce.

“As an indication that Pakistan’s foreign policy have moved to a geo-economic emphasis, ales tax on fruits imported from Afghanistan will have zero percent sales tax,” Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq said in a Twitter post, sharing a notification issued by the Federal Board of Revenue.

“This will significantly help Afghan traders and framers,” he said.

The new Taliban government of Afghanistan welcomed the decision and called for more bilateral trade.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesperson of the Afghan foreign ministry, said in a statement the ministry “welcomes the action of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan” and called for “increased trade and transit between the two countries.”

Russia says it’s in sync with US, China, Pakistan on Taliban 

Updated 26 September 2021

Russia says it’s in sync with US, China, Pakistan on Taliban 

  • Major powers have a “great responsibility,” to negotiate and make compromises on the critical issues – says Russian Foreign Minister 
  • Representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan recently traveled to Kabul engage with Taliban and other Afghan leaders 

UNITED NATIONS: Russia, China, Pakistan and the United States are working together to ensure that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers keep their promises, especially to form a genuinely representative government and prevent extremism from spreading, Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday. 
Sergey Lavrov said the four countries are in ongoing contact. He said representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan recently traveled to Qatar and then to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to engage with both the Taliban and representatives of “secular authorities” — former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who headed the ousted government’s negotiating council with the Taliban. 
Lavrov said the interim government announced by the Taliban does not reflect “the whole gamut of Afghan society — ethno-religious and political forces — so we are engaging in contacts. They are ongoing.” 

The Taliban have promised an inclusive government, a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 including respecting women’s rights, providing stability after 20 years of war, fighting terrorism and extremism and stopping militants from using their territory to launch attacks. 

But recent moves suggest they may be returning to more repressive policies, particularly toward women and girls. 
“What’s most important ... is to ensure that the promises that they have proclaimed publicly to be kept,” Lavrov said. “And for us, that is the top priority.” 
At a wide-ranging news conference and in his speech afterward at the UN General Assembly, Lavrov criticized the Biden administration including for its hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. 
He said the US and NATO pullout “was carried out out without any consideration of the consequences ... that there are many weapons left in Afghanistan.” It remains critical, he said, that such weapons aren’t used for “destructive purposes.” 
Later, in his assembly speech, Lavrov accused the United States and its Western allies of “persistent attempts to diminish the UN’s role in resolving the key problems of today or to sideline it or to make it a malleable tool for promoting someone’s selfish interests.” 
As examples, Lavrov said Germany and France recently announced the creation of an Alliance For Multilateralism “even though what kind of structure could be more multilateral than the United Nations?” 
The United States is also sidestepping the UN, he said, pointing to the recent US announcement of a “Summit for Democracy” despite, Lavrov said, US President Joe Biden’s pledge this week “that the US is not seeking a world divided into opposing blocs.” 
“It goes without saying that Washington is going to choose the participants by itself, thus hijacking the right to decide to what degree a country meets the standards of democracy,” Lavrov said. “Essentially, this initiative is quite in the spirit of a Cold War, as it declares a new ideological crusade against all dissenters.” 
Lavrov was asked for Russia’s reaction to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ warning last week that the world could be plunged into a new Cold War potentially more dangerous than the lengthy one between the US and the former Soviet Union unless the United States and China repair their “totally dysfunctional” relationship. 
He replied: “Of course, we see the tension tightening in relations between China and the United States.” He expressed “great concern” at the rising tensions, pointing to the Biden administration’s recently proclaimed Indo-Pacific strategy — whose objectives, he said, include “deterring China’s development,” disputes over the South China Sea, and the recent US-Britain deal to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. 
More broadly, Lavrov said, relations among the big powers must be “respectful.” He emphasized that Russia was “keen to ensure that never will these relations morph into nuclear war.” 
The major powers have a “great responsibility,” he said, to negotiate and make compromises on the critical issues facing the world and that Russia is now “revitalizing” its proposal for a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Russia, China, US, UK and France. He said discussions are under way on specific questions for an agenda, and “we may perhaps begin with an online meeting.” 
On other global issues, the United States has been pressing for Iran to resume nuclear negotiations, but Lavrov said it was then-President Donald Trump who pulled the US out of the nuclear agreement, so to declare that “time is running out, anybody could say this — but not Washington.” 
In his first speech to the General Assembly earlier this week, new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi criticized the United States but appeared not to rule out a return to the negotiating table for the nuclear accord, saying Iran considers talks useful if their ultimate outcome is the lifting of all sanctions. Still, he stated: “We don’t trust the promises made by the US government.” 
Lavrov said Russia would like to see the resumption of negotiations to restore the original agreement as soon as possible. “We have a very serious hope — and I think this is well-founded optimism — that we will achieve results,” he said, because “this is something everybody wants.” 

Pakistan needs to be congratulated for evacuations from Afghanistan — EU envoy

Updated 25 September 2021

Pakistan needs to be congratulated for evacuations from Afghanistan — EU envoy

  • Pakistan has facilitated the evacuation of thousands of foreigners since the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15
  • EU recognition comes as United States has not recognized Islamabad's support and assistance

ISLAMABAD: European Union Ambassador to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara said on Saturday Pakistan's needs to be congratulated for its role in evacuating European nationals from Afghanistan.

Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, Pakistan has facilitated the evacuation of 16,000 diplomats, foreigners, aid workers, journalists and vulnerable Afghans on its national flag carrier flights and through its land borders.

"Pakistan needs to be congratulated," Kaminara told the state-owned broadcaster Radio Pakistan. "When a lot of European citizens needed to be evacuated, we have found a partner in Pakistan which was helpful and we are grateful for the support that we had."

She also highlighted Pakistan's key role in facilitating humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.

The EU recognition comes as United States has not recognized Islamabad's support and assistance in dealing with turmoil in the neighboring country since the Taliban took over power.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said last week that Pakistan extended full help to the US in negotiations with the Taliban and during the withdrawal of its troops and people from Afghanistan.

"United States has not recognized Pakistan's supportive role during Afghanistan-related developments," he told reporters in New York, adding that  Pakistan would continue to assist in the distribution of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and was ready to become a hub in this regard.