US to ship another 9.6 million doses of donated Pfizer vaccines to Pakistan

A health worker inoculates a student with a dose of Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus at a school in Lahore, Pakistan, on October 5, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 October 2021

US to ship another 9.6 million doses of donated Pfizer vaccines to Pakistan

  • US government has shipped more than 25 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Pakistan to date
  • US is single largest contributor supporting COVAX efforts toward global COVID-19 vaccines access

ISLAMABAD: The US is shipping an additional 9.6 million doses of Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX facility to Pakistan, the US embassy in Islamabad said on Friday.

The donation brings the total number of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the US government to Pakistan to more than 25 million. The latest batch of Pfizer vaccines are part of the 500 million Pfizer doses the United States purchased this summer to deliver to 92 countries worldwide, including Pakistan, to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to provide safe and effective vaccines around the world and supercharge the global fight against the pandemic. 

At the virtual Global COVID-19 Summit held on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September, Biden announced the United States would provide an additional 500 million Pfizer vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries around the globe, with shipments starting in January 2022.

“The United States is proud to partner with Pakistan to get effective, life-saving Pfizer vaccinations into the arms of Pakistanis, and Pakistan has done a great job of distributing our donated vaccines,” US Embassy Chargé d’affaires Angela P. Aggeler said. 

“This donation comes just in time for young Pakistanis over age 12 to get their first jabs. Please get vaccinated and take a selfie using one of our “I Got Vaccinated” photo booth frames. You can find them at the Mass Vaccination Clinic in F-9 and at several of our Lincoln Corners. And be sure to tag @usembislamabad when you take your selfie!”

The US has also delivered $63 million in COVID-19 assistance through its partnership with the government of Pakistan. Since the start of the pandemic, the US has worked together with Pakistan to improve infection prevention and control, enhance patient care, expand laboratory testing, and support frontline health care workers.

The United States is the single largest contributor supporting COVAX efforts toward global COVID-19 vaccines access.


UN refugee agency calls on Pakistan, other countries to accept Afghan asylum-seekers

Updated 01 December 2021

UN refugee agency calls on Pakistan, other countries to accept Afghan asylum-seekers

  • The world body says Afghanistan's neighboring countries should open their borders even to those without documentation
  • The UN refugee agency calls for a halt to deportations, saying Afghan nationals may face persecution in their homeland

GENEVA: Afghans seeking to flee abroad face escalating risks as the domestic situation deteriorates, the United Nations refugee agency said on Wednesday in a plea to neighboring countries to open their borders even to those without documentation.

Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan have deported increasing numbers of Afghans since August, following the Taliban takeover, it said.

The UNHCR called for a halt to deportations saying Afghans may face persecution in their homeland where religious and ethnic minorities and activists have been targeted.

"UNHCR urges all countries receiving Afghan new arrivals to keep their borders open to those in need of international protection," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement.


Pakistan urges OIC to help address Afghanistan's urgent humanitarian needs

Updated 01 December 2021

Pakistan urges OIC to help address Afghanistan's urgent humanitarian needs

  • The Organization of Islamic Cooperation will be holding an extraordinary session on Afghanistan later this month
  • Pakistan's foreign secretary says 60 percent of Afghan nationals can face 'crisis level of hunger' that may lead to mass refugee exodus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood said on Wednesday the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should play a role in helping the people of Afghanistan who were facing a serious humanitarian crisis.

Afghanistan witnessed a major political change in August when the Taliban seized control of its capital city, Kabul, while the international community was still in the process of pulling out its troops.

The political change exposed the economic vulnerabilities of the country, however, which required substantial foreign assistance after being in a state of war for several decades.

The top official of Pakistan's foreign office briefed the Islamabad-based heads of OIC missions on the prevailing situation in Afghanistan ahead of the group's proposed extraordinary session on the subject later this month.

"The Foreign Secretary emphasized that as the collective voice of the Islamic Ummah, the OIC, can and must play its part in helping address the urgent humanitarian and economic needs of our Afghan brethren," said an official statement released by the foreign office in Islamabad. "In addition, he underlined, OIC’s leadership could help galvanize other international actors to come forward and extend a helping hand to the Afghan people currently in dire need of international support and solidarity."

The Pakistani official informed that the OIC extraordinary session was organized after Saudi Arabia took the initiative last month, adding that the administration in Islamabad welcomed the decision and offered to host the foreign ministers of OIC nations on December 17.

Quoting the United Nations estimates, he said that 60 percent of Afghanistan's 38 million people faced "crisis level of hunger," adding there was a risk of acute malnutrition among Afghan women and children along with the problem of internal displacement.

The foreign secretary maintained a potential economic collapse in Afghanistan could not be ruled out.

"This would not only be a humanitarian tragedy but also exacerbate the security situation, spur instability, and lead to a mass exodus of refugees," he said, adding: "This would have grave consequences for international peace and stability."

Pakistan has also urged the international community in the past not to adopt a policy of disengagement toward Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover since it would have negative consequences for the people in the war-battered country along with the rest of the region.


President Alvi signs bill to safeguard rights of journalists in Pakistan

Updated 01 December 2021

President Alvi signs bill to safeguard rights of journalists in Pakistan

  • The Pakistani president says the new law increases the responsibility of the government and media owners
  • The Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, will deal with issues like harassment, torture and arbitrary arrests

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Wednesday endorsed the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, which was passed by parliament last month to safeguard the rights of the media community in the country.

The bill requires the government to take all possible measures to protect journalists and media professionals from all forms of harassment, abuse, violence and exploitation at the hands of any individual, institution or authority.

It also authorizes the government to establish a commission to look into complaints against threats, acts of torture, killings, violent attacks, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.

“I am feeling happy to sign this Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, which was drafted through consensus of all stakeholders after a lot of hard work,” the president said during the signing ceremony at the Presidency in Islamabad.

He maintained there was uniformity of opinion regarding the rights of journalists, adding that the new law had increased the responsibility of the government and media owners in the country.

Alvi said the bill had eight points that covered different aspects of the media industry to ensure the protection of journalists.

“It’s third act of part two provides the right to life and protection. It is essential for journalists because they work with neutrality despite facing acute dangers,” he said while noting that Article 4 was about the right to privacy and source nondisclosure “which remained a big issue in the past.”

“There is protection against abusive, violent and intolerant behavior,” he continued. “There is also a clause about an independent media commission which is very essential.”

The president said while the society had the responsibility to demonstrate tolerance toward journalists trying to perform their duties, the media community should also report developments objectively and within the right context.

The country’s information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain described the legislation as a leap forward while hoping it would provide all the rights to Pakistani journalists which were available to media communities in developed states.

“The media enjoys freedom in Pakistan,” he said. “The government stands by working journalists and will act to provide them employment protection.”

Pakistan’s human rights minister Shireen Mazari said the new law defined the term “media professional” and would let the authorities deliberate on journalist welfare schemes.

“It is now a legal obligation of media owners to provide insurance and training to media professionals,” she said.

Mazari informed that women would also be given representation in the commission to be formed under the Act.

“An independent commission will be formed for the first time in the country which will address the complaints of journalists,” she added.

A representative of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Pervaiz Shaukat welcomed the new law, though he emphasized its implementation.

“We talked to the information minister that the government should ensure its implementation,” he told Arab News. “Otherwise, this will become useless like many other laws.”


China says Gwadar protests deliberately played up by media outlets

Updated 01 December 2021

China says Gwadar protests deliberately played up by media outlets

  • A senior foreign ministry official in Beijing denies the presence of any Chinese trawlers near the Pakistani deep-sea port
  • Gwadar is located in Pakistan's sparsely populated Balochistan province where people are mostly associated with the fishing business

ISLAMABAD: A Chinese foreign ministry official said on Tuesday some media outlets had launched a smear campaign against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by playing up protests in Gwadar, reported Pakistan's APP state-owned news agency.
Gwadar is at the heart of the multibillion-dollar economic corridor project that aims to provide China a shorter, more secure trade route, via Pakistan, to the Middle East and beyond, while also boosting Pakistan’s economy.
Despite its strategic significance, the residents of the area have been demanding basic rights and action against illegal trawling in the Arabian Sea which they say has rendered local fisherfolk and others jobless.
The issue has also been reported by the international media.
"China firmly rejects certain media's attempts to smear the CPEC building and China-Pakistan relations," the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, was quoted as saying by the APP agency. "This is completely fake news. Certain media's hyping up of the protests against China in Gwadar region lacks factual basis."
The APP report said Lijian denied the presence of any Chinese trawlers near Gwadar, adding that CPEC was not only focusing on development work but also trying to contribute to the livelihood of people.
Gwadar is located in Pakistan's sparsely populated southwestern Balochistan province where a large number of people are associated with the fishing business.


'Longest' supply cut to CNG stations in Pakistan may jeopardize over 20,000 jobs, warn stakeholders

Updated 01 December 2021

'Longest' supply cut to CNG stations in Pakistan may jeopardize over 20,000 jobs, warn stakeholders

  • The Sui Southern Gas Company has started suspending gas supply to all CNG stations in Sindh and Balochistan until February 15
  • Owners of CNG pumps say frequent supply cuts to manage the demand of gas in the country will gradually wipe out the sector

KARACHI: The suspension of gas to fuel stations across the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan not only risks the employment of over 20,000 people associated with the business but is also likely to exert further pressure on the country’s import bill, said traders and stakeholders on Tuesday.
The state-owned Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) announced the decision to suspend gas supply to the compressed natural gas (CNG) sector for two and half months from December 1 to meet the demand of domestic consumers during winter.
According to a notification released by the company earlier this week, the gas supply will remain suspended to “all CNG stations across Sindh and Balochistan from December 1, 2021, until February 15, 2022.”
However, the business community warned such decisions could wipe out CNG stations in in the country.
“We fear that about 20,000 people who are directly or indirectly associated with the CNG business will be affected along with their families,” Samir Najmul Hussain, convener of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s standing committee on CNG, told Arab News. “It will also deprive the government of much needed revenue, exert pressure on the import bill, and add to the environmental woes.”
Owners of CNG stations also voiced concern over the decision.
“This practically amounts to driving CNG station owners out of business since this is the longest gas supply cut,” Shabir Sulemanji, chairman of the CNG Forum, said while talking to Arab News.
He informed that about 520 CNG stations out of 630 were operational in the two provinces and employed an average of 15 to 20 workers each.
Pakistan faces a chronic shortage of gas during winter, as demand for heating increases. The situation is mostly managed by the authorities by resorting to such load management mechanisms.
The country is expected to face a shortage of about 2,281 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) between December 2021 and February 2022 due to a decline in local gas production, according to various estimates.
Given the frequent supply cuts to manage the gas demand in the country, CNG traders believe the sector is gradually being phased out.
“The number of CNG station across Pakistan has declined by about 3,300 to around 16,000,” Sulemanji said.
The country introduced CNG in the 1990s as a form of green fuel for ordinary people, though traders believe the concept is now coming to an end. “The concept of this being a cleaner fuel is gradually over,” Sulemanji said.
Pakistan stopped issuing CNG licenses in 2008, though it lifted the official ban last year and allowed people to set up new stations where they could only sell re-gasified natural gas (RLNG).