Pakistan says Afghan soil should not be used by ‘terrorist’ groups against any country

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (center) chairs National Security Committee meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, on August 16, 2021. (Photo courtesy: PID)
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Updated 16 August 2021
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Pakistan says Afghan soil should not be used by ‘terrorist’ groups against any country

  • Prime minister Imran Khan convenes a meeting of the National Security Committee 
  • Consultation comes a day after Taliban insurgents took over the Afghanistan capital without a fight

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan convened a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) today, Monday, where the government called on all parties in Afghanistan to ensure that Afghan soil was not used by militants against any country. 
The meeting comes a day after Taliban insurgents took over the Afghanistan capital without a fight. Just last week, a US intelligence estimate said Kabul could hold out for at least three months.
“The NSC noted positively that major violence had been averted thus far and called on all parties in Afghanistan to respect the rule of law, protect fundamental human rights of all Afghans, and ensure that Afghan soil is not used by any terrorist organization/group against any country,” a statement from the PM Office said. 
“Participants reiterated that Pakistan remains committed to an inclusive political settlement as the way forward representing all Afghan ethnic groups. It was reaffirmed that Pakistan would continue to work with the international community and all Afghan stakeholders to facilitate an inclusive political settlement in the country. It was stressed that the principle of non-interference in Afghanistan must be adhered to.”
PM Khan directed that all possible facilities be made available to repatriate Pakistanis, diplomats, journalists and the staff of international organizations seeking to leave Afghanistan.
“The Prime Minister lauded the ongoing efforts of the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and the state machinery in this regard,” the statement said.
Earlier on Sunday, Taliban insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan, which is still in government hands.
The capture of Jalalabad followed the Taliban’s seizure of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif late on Saturday, also with little fighting.
After US-led forces withdrew the bulk of the their remaining troops in the last month, the Taliban campaign accelerated as the Afghan military’s defenses appeared to collapse.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also fled the country on Sunday, saying he had left to avoid bloodshed.
In a post on his Facebook page, Ghani said he had faced a difficult decision, with the fate of millions of Kabul residents and the security of the city at stake after 20 years of war in which countless had already been killed.
“To avoid bloodshed, I thought it would be better to leave,” he said in his first comments since quitting the presidential palace and flying out of the country.
He added that the Taliban insurgents, who later entered the presidential palace in Kabul, now faced a historic test.
“The Taliban won victory in the judgment of sword and gun and they have the responsibility to protect the honor, prosperity and self-respect of our compatriots,” he said.
He did not disclose details of his current location.


Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget

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Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb remains optimistic about a positive outcome in the IMF talks, eyes 40% revenue increase
  • The finance minister declares current tax-to-GDP ratio unsustainable, says he wants 13% increase in three years

KARACHI: Pakistan hopes to sign a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by next month after presenting an Rs18.877 trillion ($67.76 billion) federal budget and setting a revenue collection target of more than 40 percent for the next fiscal year.
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Wednesday unveiled the first budget of the newly elected administration of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which is expected to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the IMF to unlock yet another loan program.
“The talks with the IMF are going on in a positive direction and we are hopeful that in July we would move toward a staff-level agreement,” the minister told journalists during a post-budget media briefing in Islamabad.
The South Asian nation has set an ambitious revenue collection target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) for the next fiscal year. This target is over 40 percent compared to the current fiscal year ending on June 30.
The government has projected the budget deficit to be 6.9 percent of the GDP while the primary surplus is expected to be at 1 percent of GDP. To achieve the tax collection target, the minister said the government’s basic principle was to expand the tax base.
“The current tax-to-GDP ratio is simply unsustainable,” Aurangzeb said, adding he wanted to increase it to 13 percent in the next three years.
The government measures are estimated to generate about Rs1.761 trillion through new revenue measures while income tax rates and slabs changes will unlock additional revenues of Rs70 billion from the salaried segment.
However, Aurangzeb insisted the salaried class would not be burdened.
“If you look on an individual level, the burden is not that heavy,” he said.
The government will collect about Rs350 billion from exporters and about Rs200 billion are estimated to be collected from retailers and wholesalers by increasing the advance sales tax.
The finance minister said the increase in petroleum development levy (PDL) would be gradually increased to Rs80 per liter and linked with international oil prices.
He said the government’s aim was to remove the concept of non-filers from the country by making them pay a higher rate of tax on transactions.
“I want to remove this concept of non-filers. I think Pakistan is the only country that has the non-filer category,” he added.
The finance minister said the government was in process of digitizing the country’s tax collection system operated by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to end the undocumented economy.
“The process of digitization of FBR is underway and it will help in the documentation of the economy and digitizing finances,” he said, adding the digitization would reduce human intervention and corruption.
Asked about tax collection from retail outlets, he said the government would relaunch points of sales (POS) to minimize the cash flow that is about Rs9 trillion in circulation.
Defending the massive allocation of Rs1.5 trillion for the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP), the finance minister argued that the government wanted to ensure that ongoing projects were completed as 81 percent of funds were allocated for schemes that were being implemented.
Responding to a question about the privatization program of the incumbent government, he said the government was working with all stakeholders.
“PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] and Islamabad Airport are already up for privatization and transactions are expected to be completed by August,” he informed, adding the Lahore and Karachi airports would be privatized next on the prime minister’s direction.


Pakistan lawyer files treason petition against national cricket team following T20 World Cup setbacks

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan lawyer files treason petition against national cricket team following T20 World Cup setbacks

  • The petition says millions have been spent on cricket players who have undermined the integrity of the country
  • It calls for a ban on the team until an inquiry is carried out by a high-level official who compiles a detailed report

ISLAMABAD: A lawyer in Pakistan’s Gujranwala city has filed a petition against the national cricket team, as reported by local media outlets on Wednesday, seeking treason charges against the players for their lackluster performance in the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup.
Cricket in Pakistan is not just a sport but is deeply embedded in the nation’s identity and constitutes a significant source of pride. The performance of Pakistan’s team not only influences the collective mood but also acts as a barometer of national esteem, with victories celebrated as monumental achievements and defeats often taken to heart by the populace.
The national team’s performance has come under scrutiny since faltering at last year’s Asia Cup. The players also left a deep sense of disappointment among fans following a defeat by Afghanistan in the ODI World Cup in India.
The team’s inconsistency, particularly in crucial matches, has since led to public and media criticism regarding strategies, selections and individual performances. The court case against the players was registered after two consecutive losses to the USA and India in the T20 World Cup.
“The petitioner expressed deep concern over the disappointing performance of the national cricket team, calling it a waste of money and a betrayal of the nation’s trust,” Samaa TV said. “The petition accuses the team of putting at stake millions of rupees and the integrity of the nation, alleging that the players and team management prioritized financial gain over the country’s honor.”
“Furthermore, the petition highlights the severe hurt caused to the sentiments of the people during matches against America and India, citing these performances as particularly egregious,” it added. “It calls for a ban on the team until a thorough inquiry is conducted by the interior secretary and a comprehensive report is completed.”
According to The Express Tribune, the lawyer has called for treason charges against skipper Babar Azam and other members of the team.
The court has asked for a report from the police on the registration of the case and directed to file it by June 21.


Pakistan lauds UN report on Gaza, says it confirms Israel’s war crimes and civilian targeting

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan lauds UN report on Gaza, says it confirms Israel’s war crimes and civilian targeting

  • United Nations report says Hamas’s act of taking hostages on Oct. 7 also constituted a war crime
  • Pakistan asks the international community to hold Israel accountable for brutal prosecution of war

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan applauded the United Nations on Thursday for bringing out a report on war crimes in the ongoing war in Gaza, saying it had confirmed reports that Israel was using starvation as a method of warfare while intentionally targeting civilians during its military campaigns.
The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel, released the report on Wednesday, blaming the Palestinian armed groups and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration of grave violations of international law.
Israel besieged the Gaza Strip and launched airstrikes after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas on Oct. 7 in what it said was a response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under occupation.
Israel’s response was widely viewed as disproportionate by the international community in which thousands of innocent women and children have so far been killed.
Israel is facing the charges of committing genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered an end to its ongoing offensive in Rafah.
“Pakistan welcomes the June 12 report of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel,” said Mumtaz Zahra Baloch during his weekly media briefing. “The findings of the commission of the inquiry have confirmed reports of Israeli war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians, forceable transfer, torture and inhumane and cruel punishment.”
“Pakistan believes time has come to hold Israel accountable for its grave crimes,” she added. “We call on global conscience to force Israel toward an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. It is also critical to bring an end to the war on the people of Gaza.”
Baloch said Pakistan also considered the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 2735 while expressing hope for permanent and sustainable ceasefire and end to the sufferings of Palestinians in Gaza.
The UN commission’s report is based on interviews with victims and witnesses on both Palestinian and Israeli sides about the events of Oct. 7 and what came after that.
The commission’s chair, Navi Pillay, said it was imperative to hold all those accountable who were guilty of committing war crimes.
“The only way to stop the recurring cycles of violence, including aggression and retribution by both sides, is to ensure strict adherence to international law,” she said.
“Israel must immediately stop its military operations and attacks in Gaza, including the assault on Rafah, which has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and again displaced hundreds of thousands of people to unsafe locations without basic services and humanitarian assistance,” she continued, adding: “Hamas and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease rocket attacks and release all hostages. The taking of hostages constitutes a war crime.”
The commission also noted the immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the outcome of a strategy undertaken by Israel with the intention to inflict maximum damage, disregarding the principles of distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions.


Pakistan raises defense budget by 17.5% to $6.15 billion amid surge in militancy

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan raises defense budget by 17.5% to $6.15 billion amid surge in militancy

  • Defense spending in Pakistan draws media focus as debates over security needs and public services persist
  • Media coverage also reflects concerns about transparency, with few details available on the overall spending

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb announced a 17.5 percent increase in the country’s defense budget on Wednesday, saying the government had decided to allocate Rs2.12 trillion ($6.15 billion) for the country’s security needs in view of its geopolitical situation.
Pakistan’s defense budget consistently attracts media attention due to the military’s substantial role in both the political and economic arenas of the country.
The allocation of significant funds to defense sparks debates over the balance between security needs and other critical public services, such as education and health care.
Media coverage and public discussions also reflect concerns about transparency, with governments only mentioning the overall figure without sharing further details.
“Rs2.122 trillion will be provided for defense needs,” the finance minister said during his address to the National Assembly. “And Rs849 billion are being allocated for civil administration expenses.”
Last year, the defense allocation stood at Rs1.80 trillion ($5.23 billion).
According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, the allocated amount “presents an incomplete picture of the country’s actual military expenditure.”
“A significant sum of Rs662 billion [$1.92 billion], designated for retired military personnel, which equals to about 31pc of allocation for the armed forces, will not be drawn from the defense budget, rather government’s current expenditure,” it reported.
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant violence in recent years, prompting its armed forces to carry out targeted operations in areas adjoining its border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s army and other law enforcement agencies are also responsible for the providing security to Chinese nationals working on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is widely viewed as pivotal to the country’s economic security.
Militant groups have periodically targeted these Chinese workers, killing five of them earlier this year in a suicide bombing in Pakistan’s northwest while they were going to the site of a hydropower project.


One year on, Pakistanis among migrants who cheated death off Greece and continue to seek justice

Updated 13 June 2024
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One year on, Pakistanis among migrants who cheated death off Greece and continue to seek justice

  • Only 104 people survived the wreck of an old fishing boat smuggling 750 migrants from North Africa to Europe
  • 82 bodies were recovered, so hundreds of families still lack even the grim certitude that their relatives are dead

ATHENS: Desperate hands clutched at Ali Elwan’s arms, legs and neck, and screams misted his ears, as he spat out saltwater and fought for three hours to keep afloat in the night, dozens of miles from land.
Although a poor swimmer, he lived — one of just 104 survivors from the wreck of a dilapidated old metal fishing boat smuggling up to 750 migrants from North Africa to Europe.
“I was so, so lucky,” the 30-year-old Egyptian told The Associated Press in Athens, Greece, where he works odd jobs while he waits to hear the outcome of his asylum application. “I have two babies. Maybe I stay(ed) in this life for them.”
Thousands have died in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks in recent years as migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seek a better life in the affluent European Union.
But the sinking of the Adriana a year ago Friday in international waters 75 kilometers (45 miles) off Pylos in southern Greece was one of the worst. Only 82 bodies were recovered, so that hundreds of families still lack even the grim certitude that their relatives are dead.
Elwan, a cook whose wife and children are in Cairo, says he still gets phone calls from Egypt from mothers, brothers and wives of the missing.
“We (left) home to get best life for family and until now (their families) know nothing about them,” he said.
And after a year there are only hazy answers as to why so many lives were lost, what caused the shipwreck and who can be held answerable.
Migrant charities and human rights groups have strongly criticized Greece’s handling of the sinking.
The Greek coast guard, migration ministry and other officials did not respond to requests for comment ahead of the anniversary.
Authorities had a coast guard boat on the scene and merchant ships in the vicinity during the trawler’s last hours. They blame smugglers who crammed hundreds of people into an unseaworthy vessel — most in an airless hold designed to store a catch of fish — for a nightmare voyage from Libya to Italy.
They also say the Adriana capsized when its passengers — some of whom wanted to press on for Italy after five dreadful days at sea, others to seek safety in Greece — suddenly surged to one side, causing it to lurch and turn turtle. And they insist that offers to take the migrants off the ship were rebuffed by people set on reaching Italy.
Elwan — who says he was on deck with a clear view of what happened — and other survivors say the lurching followed a botched coast guard attempt to tow the trawler. He claimed the coast guard hurriedly cut the towline when it became evident the Adriana would sink and drag their boat down with it.
“If you find the ship (at the bottom of the sea), you will find this rope” still attached to it, he said.
But the logistics make such a feat nigh-on impossible, Greek authorities say, as the ship rests some 5 kilometers (more than 3 miles) down, at one of the Mediterranean’s deepest points.
The coast guard has denied any towing attempt, and allegations that its vessel tried to shift the trawler into neighboring Italy’s area of responsibility.
A naval court began investigating last June, but has released no information on its progress or findings. Separately, in November Greece’s state ombudsman started an independent probe into authorities’ handling of the tragedy, bemoaning the coast guard’s “express denial” to initiate a disciplinary investigation.
Last month, a Greek court dropped charges against nine Egyptians accused of crewing the Adriana and causing the shipwreck. Without examining evidence for or against them, it determined that Greece lacked jurisdiction as the wreck occurred in international waters.
Effie Doussi, one of the Egyptians’ defense lawyers, argued that the ruling was “politically convenient” for Greek authorities.
“It saved the Greek state from being exposed over how the coast guard acted, given their responsibility for rescue,” she said.
Doussi said a full hearing would have included testimony from survivors and other witnesses, and let defense lawyers seek additional evidence from the coast guard, such as potential mobile phone data.
Zeeshan Sarwar, a 28-year-old Pakistani survivor, said he’s still waiting for justice, “but apparently there is nothing.”
“I may be looking fine right now, but I am broken from the inside. We are not getting justice,” he told the AP. “We are not receiving any information about the people of coast guard ... that the court has found them guilty or not.”
Elwan, the Egyptian, said he can still only sleep for three or four hours a night.
“I remember every second that happened to me,” he said. “I can’t forget anything because (I) lost friends in this ship.”
The journey that preceded the wreck was also horrendous.
Survivors said Pakistanis were confined in the hold and beaten by the crew if they tried to stir. But Arabic-speaking Egyptians and Syrians enjoyed the relative luxury of the deck. For many, that spelled the difference between life and death when the ship capsized.
“Our condition was very bad on the first day because it was the first time in our life that we were traveling on the sea,” Sarwar said.
“If a person ... tried to vomit, then they used to say that you have to do it right here on your lap, you can’t get (outside),” he said. “On the fifth day, people were fainting because of hunger and thirst. One man died.”
Elwan said he left for Europe secretly, telling his wife he would be away for months, working at an Egyptian Red Sea resort.
He’s upset that he’s still to be granted asylum, unlike many Syrian survivors who, he said, have moved on to western Europe.
“Only people from Egypt can’t get papers,” he said. “I’ve been working for 10 months to send money for my family ... If someone says come and move rubbish, I will go and move this rubbish, no problem for me.”
If he gets residence papers, Elwan wants to work in Greece and bring his family over.
Otherwise, “I will go to Italy, maybe Germany. I don’t know.”