Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

Passengers stand in a queue to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane, which is the first international commercial flight to land since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan on August 15, at the airport in Kabul on September 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

  • Tickets for PIA flights have spiraled out of the reach of most Afghans, selling for as much as $2,500
  • Taliban issued a statement ordering the airline to ‘adjust’ its ticket prices for Kabul-Islamabad flights

KABUL: Afghan citizens and government officials said on Saturday they are hopeful Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) would soon resume its Kabul operations at the same cheaper fares it had offered before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

PIA resumed special flights from Kabul to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after the Taliban seized power in mid-August, and was a lifeline for many Afghans trying to flee the new regime, economic crisis or seek treatment in Pakistan, as they used to before.

But with most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for PIA flights have spiraled out of the reach of most Afghans, selling for as much as $2,500, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before the Taliban takeover.

Earlier this week, the Taliban transportation ministry issued a statement ordering the airline to “adjust the price of tickets for Kabul-Islamabad flights to the ticket standard set before the victory of the Islamic Emirate.” Otherwise “they will not be permitted to run their operations from Kabul airport.”

Following the statement by the Afghan transportation ministry, the PIA said it had suspended flights to Kabul over the “unprofessional attitude” of Taliban authorities.

“We hope PIA would understand and act according to the demand of Islamic Emirate Transport and Aviation Ministry,” Bilal Karimi, spokesman and member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News on Saturday.

“What we are looking is to provide facilities to the ordinary Afghans who want to go to Pakistan, but they don’t have the budget to take flights.”

Ordinary Afghans are also hopeful the flights would soon be available and at affordable fares. Some need to go to Pakistan for lifesaving treatment that in many cases is not possible in Afghanistan, where health care infrastructure is largely fragile and inadequate for more complex medical interventions. 

Abdul Ali Hussaini arrived in Kabul last week to bring his injured brother to Pakistan for urgent surgery after a deadly Daesh attack in the northern city of Kunduz on Oct. 8.

“I brought my brother to Kabul after the attack occurred, he is in emergency hospital. The doctors told me that for further treatment he should be transferred to Pakistan,” he told Arab News. “The suspension of the flights and also the high rate of tickets is a problem. We hope that the flights would resume and we would be able to take tickets in a cheaper price.”

Ataullah, 35, arrived in Kabul from Helmand province to travel with his leukemia patient mother for urgent treatment in Pakistan.

“I was asked $2,500 for each ticket,” he said, “I tried very hard to get my mother to Pakistan as soon as possible.”

“I do not know what to do. I expect a miracle.”

Mohammad Rashad from Kabul said he had received a scholarship from an Italian university but had been unable to travel as PIA’s flight prices were impossibly high.

“I have 15 days to go to Islamabad and from there travel to Italy,” the 26-year-old told Arab News. “I will miss this opportunity.”

Sayed, who works for a foreign agency in Afghanistan, wants to leave the country with his family is now trying to reach Islamabad. Still, the blocking of Pakistan Airlines flights to Kabul has posed a serious challenge to him.

“One of the embassies operating in Islamabad has sent my family and me our visas. They asked me to come to Pakistan within a week,” he said. “The delay in my trip to Pakistan has now become a major problem for us and has multiplied my security fears here in Kabul.”

While PIA has earlier said its Afghanistan operations are “not very lucrative financially” as it faces “difficult circumstances” at Kabul airport, some Afghan experts say high demand has allowed the carrier to impose skyrocketing fares. 

“Demand for travel to Islamabad has increased,” Sayed Massoud, economics professor from Kabul University, told Arab News. “Everyone is trying to get to Islamabad as soon as possible and from there to another place.”

“Pakistan Airlines is trying to monopolize flights to Islamabad to make more money,” he said.

While PIA has not announced whether and when it is going to resume its Afghanistan flights, the airline’s representative in Kabul, Ahmad Salim Rohani, said he is hopeful it would happen soon return to its operations with more affordable fares.

“Once the flights resume,” he said, “we hope that the tickets would be at a lower price.”

Pakistan’s opposition alliance announces anti-government march on Republic Day

Updated 17 sec ago

Pakistan’s opposition alliance announces anti-government march on Republic Day

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement says it will march on Islamabad to register protest against rising inflation
  • The alliance asks the country’s election body to disqualify the prime minister, disband his political party

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani opposition alliance on Tuesday announced its decision to march against inflation and bring down the government by entering the country’s federal capital on Republic Day on March 23.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance was formed by 11 opposition factions in September 2020 against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration.
It held several anti-government rallies across the country but developed differences over its political strategy and lost two of its members.
The PDM mostly focused on political issues while managing its campaign, though it has now started paying greater attention to the economic issues.
“People will start moving toward Islamabad from every corner of the country on March 23,” Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the alliance president, told journalists after consulting other political parties in a meeting held in the federal capital. “This will also be the last nail and bring an end to the rule of the current administration.”
Rehman blamed the government for the present economic turmoil of Pakistan, saying it was playing with the financial well-being of the people.
Discussing the recent supplementary finance bill passed by the National Assembly earlier this month, he said it had burdened Pakistan’s ordinary citizens by rising the prices of all essential items.
The PDM president said the opposition alliance rejected the “mini-budget” and wanted the government to take it back.
Rehman also accused the government of creating circumstances that would allow international financial institutions to influence the country’s central bank on the pretext of offering it greater autonomy.
“This will end Pakistan’s [economic] sovereignty,” he maintained, adding that it seemed the country was moving toward colonization once again.
“Our independence is dear to us and we will not allow any ruler to compromise it,” he continued.
Referring to a recent report compiled by the Election Commission of Pakistan’s scrutiny committee which showed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party received funding from foreign nationals while concealing several of its bank accounts, he asked the election regulatory authority to disqualify the prime minister and disband his party.
Rehman noted it was important to bring down the government since it was creating economic deprivations among people of the country.

Gunmen in northwestern Pakistan kill policeman guarding polio workers

Updated 25 January 2022

Gunmen in northwestern Pakistan kill policeman guarding polio workers

  • Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had launched the anti-polio drive only a day before to inoculate over 3.4 million children
  • Police say they have initiated an investigation into the attack and will soon bring the perpetrators to justice

PESHAWAR: Unidentified gunmen killed a Pakistani policeman on Tuesday while he was providing security of polio workers in Kohat district of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a senior official confirmed while talking to Arab News.
The province’s chief secretary Dr. Shahzad Khan Bangash formally kicked off the second phase of the first anti-polio drive of the year only a day before, saying the authorities were planning to inoculate over 3.4 million children against the crippling disease.
“A policeman was waiting outside a private residence where female polio workers were administering polio drops to children when gunmen opened fire on him,” Tahir Ayub, deputy inspector general (DIG) police in the Kohat region, said.
“We have initiated an investigation into the attack and will bring the perpetrators to justice,” he added.
According to a statement issued on Monday by the Emergency Operations Center, the provincial chief secretary maintained that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had made huge progress in its battle against polio while inaugurating the campaign.
He added that no wild polio virus case had been reported in the province for more than 18 months despite multiple challenges in running such campaigns.

Local elders along with law enforcement officials attend the funeral prayer of a police constable who was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen while he was guarding polio workers in Kohat, Pakistan, on January 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy: KP Police)

However, Bangash designated Peshawar and districts like Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan as high-risk places in the province that required more attention.
“I appeal to the parents and caregivers to support the government’s efforts in stopping the WPV [wild polio virus] transmission by vaccinating their children during every anti-polio campaign,” he added.
The provincial administration’s spokesman, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, told Arab News the attack on the policeman would not weaken the nation’s resolve to sternly deal with such criminal elements.
“We have already directed law enforcement officials and other relevant departments to devise a strategy to provide foolproof security to polio workers,” he added.
Earlier this month, Emergency Operations Center coordinator Abdul Basit said the authorities had successfully completed the first round of the anti-polio campaign and the second round would begin in 19 districts from January 24.
He said 14,887 teams had been constituted for the second phase of the campaign, adding that 13,287 of them were mobile while 953 were fixed.
Basit said the authorities had also deployed enough officials to monitor the campaign’s quality and rectify any problems at the grassroots level.

Pakistan drops 16 spots on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index

Updated 25 January 2022

Pakistan drops 16 spots on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index

  • Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on political communication rejects the report, says it is written by the government’s political opponents
  • Pakistan‘s top opposition leader criticizes the ruling administration for ‘rampant corruption,’ mocks the prime minister by calling him ‘anti-corruption Mujahid’

KARACHI: An international civil society organization on Tuesday showed a significant rise in public distrust toward Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration by releasing an annual index that ranks 180 nations on the basis of people‘s opinion regarding their anti-corruption efforts.
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2021, Pakistan dropped 16 spots to 140, compared to 124 a year before that.
CPI ranks countries and territories by perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people, using a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
“The absence of rule of law and state capture has resulted in substantially low CPI 2021 score of Pakistan compared to CPI 2020,” Justice (r) Nasira Iqbal, vice-chair of Transparency International Pakistan (TIP), said in a statement.
She added there was no change in CPI 2021 scores of India and Bangladesh from CPI 2020.
India and Bangladesh were ranked 85 and 147, respectively, on the index.
While the present Pakistani administration has frequently claimed it is striving to end corruption in the country, Pakistan’s CPI ranking has consistently gone down in the last three years.
In 2019, the country was on 120. The next year it went down to 124 before declining further to 140.
In 2018, during the government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, Pakistan was on 117 out of 180 countries.
Reacting to the development, the Pakistani prime minister’s aide on political communication Dr. Shahbaz Gill shared a video by a local news channel which said that it visited Transparency International’s office in Pakistan but was not allowed to enter.
Gill said the managing director of the organization Adil Gilani was appointed as Pakistan’s ambassador to Serbia by the political rival of the present administration and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, adding that the report “should be considered as written by the Sharif family.”

However, the country’s top opposition figure Shehbaz Sharif said in a Twitter post that corruption was “rampant in ‘Naya’ [New] Pakistan of ‘anti-corruption Mujahid’” while making a reference to the country under Prime Minister Khan.
“According to Transparency International, PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] govt has broken all records of corruption in the last 20 years,” he added. “Among Asia-pacific region, Pakistan has unfortunately been ranked as the 5th most corrupt country.”
Referring to the performance of the former PML-N administration, he said corruption had decreased despite massive development projects in the country, adding it was the result of transparency, good governance and legal reforms.
“Now corruption has hit an all-time high despite the fact that no worthwhile development [work] has taken place [in the country],” he continued.

Pakistan Peoples Party vice president Sherry Rehman termed the report a “charge sheet against the government.”
“Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is a charge sheet against this government,” she said. “In 2020, Pakistan was ranked 124th in the Corruption Perceptions Index worldwide. Within a year, Pakistan has been ranked 140th.”

Referring to the recent resignation of the prime minister’s adviser on accountability, Rehman said it was clear that corruption had increased in Pakistan.
“Accountability is only for targeting [political] opponents,” she added. “International institutions are now uncovering the corruption of this government.”



Environmental partnership to bring Pakistan, Saudi Arabia closer together — PM’s aide

Updated 25 January 2022

Environmental partnership to bring Pakistan, Saudi Arabia closer together — PM’s aide

  • A Saudi delegation is currently visiting Pakistan and will go to different tree plantation sites in the country
  • The head of the Saudi delegation says the two countries can learn a lot from each other’s green initiatives

ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said on Tuesday the green partnership between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would further strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries.
Aslam issued the statement during a media talk after holding a meeting with a Saudi delegation which is on a weeklong visit to the country to discuss Pakistan’s environmental initiatives to address the climate change challenge.
Led by Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Abdulqadir, the chief executive officer of the National Center for Vegetation Cover, the delegation is scheduled to visit plantation sites in different parts of Pakistan along with local experts.
“Today we are starting another chapter in our partnership that is green partnership,” Aslam said during a joint media interaction with members of the Saudi delegation. “We want to offer Pakistan’s experience in [building] national parks and plantation. We hope this green partnership is going to further enhance our brotherly relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”
He maintained the leadership of the two countries had developed a very strong green vision.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's special aide on climate change Malik Amin Aslam (R) meet a delegation led by Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Abdulqadir, CEO of the Saudi National Center for Vegetation Cover (L) in Islamabad on Jan 25, 2022. (PID)

Speaking to journalists, Al-Abdulqadir noted: “We just launched a 10 billion tree plantation initiative in Saudi Arabia. And we have also launched 40 billion trees plantation in the Middle East.”
“There is a lot to be learned [from each other] and a lot of information to be exchanged as you in Pakistan have started green initiative a few years ago,” he added.
In October last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced two initiatives amounting to $10.39 billion to combat climate change.
The projects include an investment fund for carbon economy solutions in the region and a global initiative that will contribute to clean fuel solutions to feed more than 750 million people worldwide. Saudi Arabia will take care of about 15 percent of the cost.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's special aide on climate change Malik Amin Aslam (R) meet a delegation led by Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Abdulqadir, CEO of the Saudi National Center for Vegetation Cover (L) in Islamabad on Jan 25, 2022. (PID)

It may be recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan had also traveled to the kingdom in October 2021 on the invitation of the Saudi crown prince to attend the Middle East Green Initiative (MGI) summit in Riyadh and shared his perspective on challenges faced by developing countries due to climate change.
Khan reiterated Pakistan’s support in the implementation of the Saudi initiatives and highlighted the significance his country attached to its strategic ties with the kingdom.
The prime minister told the crown prince his country was willing to share “all the experience that we have had in so far planting 2.5 billion trees in Pakistan” with Saudi Arabia to help with the kingdom’s environmental initiatives.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's special aide on climate change Malik Amin Aslam (R) meets Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Abdulqadir, CEO of the Saudi National Center for Vegetation Cover (L) in Islamabad on Jan 25, 2022. (PID)


Forensics found Zahir Jaffer’s shirt stained with Noor Mukadam’s blood — Islamabad police

Updated 25 January 2022

Forensics found Zahir Jaffer’s shirt stained with Noor Mukadam’s blood — Islamabad police

  • Mukadam was found beheaded at an upscale residence in Islamabad in July 2021
  • Investigating officer earlier said no evidence Jaffer killed her except for forensics

ISLAMABAD: A forensic analysis revealed that the shirt of Zahir Jaffer, the prime accused in the grisly murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam in July last year, had been stained with the blood of the victim, the Islamabad police said on Tuesday, as they sought to explain an earlier statement of the investigating officer in the case. 
Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was found beheaded at a residence in Islamabad’s upscale F-7/4 neighborhood, in a case that has sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent crime against women. The prime accused was arrested from the crime scene on the day of the murder and has since been in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail. 
The case is now in the concluding stage in an Islamabad district court, where additional sessions judge Atta Rabbani has been conducting the hearings. Eyewitnesses have recorded their statements in the case and defense attorneys are now cross-examining them. 
In Monday’s proceedings, Jaffer’s counsel, Sikandar Zulqarnain, cross-examined the investigating officer, Inspector Abdul Sattar, to point out weaknesses and loopholes in his testimony. Inspector Sattar said Jaffer’s fingerprints were not found on the knife recovered from the crime scene, while his pants did not contain any blood stains either. The investigating officer’s statement compelled the Islamabad inspector general (IG) to review progress in the case at a high-level huddle, followed by the issuance of an explanation by the capital’s police. 
“The pant was not stained with blood, but the shirt of the accused was stained with blood of the victim Noor Mukadam, as per PFSA (Punjab Forensic Science Agency) report,” the Islamabad police said in a statement, adding that Monday’s court proceedings were “misinterpreted” in some media reports. 
The police, however, maintained that Jaffer’s fingerprints were not found on the murder weapon. 
“The knife recovered from the crime scene was taken into custody, sealed by NFSA (National Forensic Science Agency) and sent to PFSA for fingerprints, which could not be developed by the latter,” the statement read. 
“But the report confirmed blood of Noor Mukadam on the knife.” 
Explaining why was not a photogrammetry test of Mukadam conducted, the Islamabad police said the test is conducted for the identification of the accused, so that he could not negate his presence at the crime scene. 
“The detailed report of the PFSA is yet to be read on the next hearing, which contains comprehensive forensic evidence, sufficient for the conviction of the accused,” the police statement read further. 
“The crime scene was visited by senior most officers at the time of occurrence and was completely preserved by forensic experts of National Forensic Science Agency.” 
The PFSA report confirmed that Mukadam was raped before being murdered, while investigators found Jaffer’s DNA i.e. skin under her nails as well as the blood-stained knuckleduster from the crime scene, it added. 
On Monday, Jaffer had walked into the courtroom along with police officials unlike his previous appearances in a chair or on a stretcher. He had remained seated on the floor of the courtroom during the hearing. 
Others charged in the case include Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, their three-household staff, Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel, and six workers from Therapy Works, a counselling center from where Jaffer had received certification to become a therapist and where he had been receiving treatment in the weeks leading up to the murder. 
The court will resume hearing the case on Wednesday.