PM seeks ‘comprehensive strategy’ against violence as Sri Lanka lynching victim’s remains reach Colombo

A representative from Pakistan High Commission to Sri Lanka places a flower wreath next to the coffin with remains of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara, who was beaten to death and burnt by the mob in Punjab province on last Friday, at Bandaranaike International Airport, in Katunayake, Sri Lanka December 6, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 December 2021

PM seeks ‘comprehensive strategy’ against violence as Sri Lanka lynching victim’s remains reach Colombo

  • Priyantha Kumara was killed and his body publicly burnt by a Muslim mob in Pakistan’s Sialkot city last week 
  • Islamabad has assured Sri Lanka all those involved in the crime will be brought to justice, PM personally overseeing probe

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday sought the implementation of a ‘comprehensive strategy’ against violence, as a SriLankan Airlines flight arrived in Colombo with the remains of Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan factory manager who had worked in Pakistan for many years and last week was lynched by a Muslim mob over blasphemy allegations. 
On Friday, a mob attacked and killed Kumara, who had worked at a garment factory in the city of Sialkot in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The crowd also publicly burned the Sri Lankan national’s body over what police have said are accusations he desecrated religious posters.
Blasphemy is considered a deeply sensitive issue in Pakistan and carries the death penalty. International and domestic rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. 
Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting attended by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Jawed Bajwa and senior members of the cabinet to review security in the country after the lynching incident.
“The participants of the meeting were of the view that individuals and mobs cannot be allowed to take the law into their hands and such incidents cannot be tolerated,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office said. “Therefore, a comprehensive strategy shall be implemented to curb such incidents and strict punishments to all the perpetrators shall be ensured.”
“The meeting expressed serious concern over the cruel act of killing of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Diyawadanage in Sialkot and expressed the resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice”.
A spokesperson for Sialkot police, Khurram Shehzad, said 132 people had been arrested so far in the case, after being identified with the help of CCTV footage. 
“Police has arrested seven more of the prime suspects including key suspect Imtaiz aka Billi who was involved in torture and disrespecting the dead body,” Shehzad told Arab News in a phone interview, saying 26 key suspects had been remanded in police custody. 
Human Rights Minister Dr. Shireen Mazari told media it was time to fully implement existing policies to combat violence, including the National Action Plan (NAP), a counter-terrorism strategy that was devised in 2014 after militants attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 134 children.
“This lynching was not the first of its kind,” Mazari told Dawn. “It’s now time to take definitive action as the state.”
Meanwhile, Kumara’s remains were transported from the Pakistani city of Lahore via SriLankan Airlines flight UL-186 at 12:30pm on Monday.
The flight landed in Colombo at around 5pm where Kumara’s remains were received by Pakistan’s acting high commissioner in Colombo, Tanvir Ahmed, along with other Sri Lankan officials.
“Pakistan Acting High Commissioner Tanvir Ahmad and Press Secretary Kalsoom Qaiser received the mortal remains and conveyed the sympathies of the people and government of Pakistan to the relatives of the deceased present at the airport,” the Pakistan high commission in Colombo said in a statement.
Representatives from all walks of life visited the Pakistan High Commission on the occasion, the statement added: “They came from Sri Lankan Parliament, Coordinators for the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for all religions including Hinduism,Christianity, Buddhism & Islam. All of them expressed their satisfaction over the quick action of the Pakistan Government in apprehension of the perpetrators of the Sialkot tragedy.”
On Monday, a delegation of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party met with Sri Lankan high commissioner Mohan Wijewickrama in Islamabad and condoled with him over Kumara’s death. 
“This was a horrific murder and we are concerned the way it was carried out. But we have seen that the government of Pakistan has immediately taken all possible actions at the highest level and they have assured to the family and to us that very stringent actions will be taken against the culprits,” Wijewickrama told the delegates. “And we are seeing it now that a large number of people have been arrested and remanded. So, we believe that the government of Pakistan is very sincere on this issue.” 
Pakistani leaders, including PM Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, have said Islamabad is working closely with Sri Lankan authorities on the case. Top Pakistani leaders have promised accountability after the Sri Lankan leadership demanded Islamabad ensure justice in the case. 
Few issues are as galvanizing in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestions of an insult to Islam have been known to supercharge protests and incite lynching. Perpetrators of violence in the name of blasphemy often go unpunished. 

Pakistan imported over $2 billion of coronavirus vaccines – information minister

Updated 13 sec ago

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."

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 healthcare 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 57 min 59 sec ago

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.

Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

  • Tahir Ashrafi says they consider security and stability of UAE as Pakistan's security and stability 
  • UAE ambassador offers condolences over the death of a Pakistani in Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on the Middle East Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi on Tuesday visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Islamabad to express solidarity with the brotherly country a day after a drone attack on its capital, Abu Dhabi, by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi militia.

Houthi rebels on Monday attacked the Emirati capital with missiles and drones, setting off explosions in fuel trucks that killed three people, including a Pakistani national, and injured six others, and causing a fire close to the Abu Dhabi airport.

“The UAE is Pakistan's strongest friend and brother. [We] consider the security and stability of the UAE as Pakistan's security and stability,” Ashrafi told UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi.

“No force can weaken Pakistan-UAE relations,” the Pakistani PM's aide said.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi conveyed condolences from the UAE leadership over the killing of the Pakistani national, who was working for the Emirati oil giant, ADNOC.

“The injured are being fully treated and the UAE foreign ministry is in touch with the Pakistani embassy,” the UAE ambassador was quoted as saying in a statement issued from the office of the Pakistani PM's aide.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi thanked Pakistan for its solidarity and cooperation with the UAE.

Besides being a brotherly country, the UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and a major source of investment in the South Asian country.

Around 1.6 million Pakistani expatriates in the UAE contributed remittances of more than $6 billion in the last financial year.