Pakistan plans to complete Pak-Afghan border fencing with Kabul’s ‘consent’

Pakistani troops are deployed near the Pak-Afghan border fence near the Big Ben Post in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on August 3, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Pakistan plans to complete Pak-Afghan border fencing with Kabul’s ‘consent’

  • The country’s interior minister says only 21 kilometers of fencing needs to be carried out to secure the frontier
  • Sheikh Rashid Ahmed also hopes the passage of the IMF-backed bills will improve Pakistan’s national currency, investment inflows

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Friday the country would finish border fencing with Afghanistan with the consent of the administration in the neighboring state.
Pakistan started fencing about 2,620 kilometers of its porous border with Afghanistan in March 2017 after facing multiple attacks from militant groups on the other side of the border.
Officials maintained border fencing would bring down instances of cross-border violence in Pakistan, though the project became contentious between the two countries.
“We have completed fencing some 2,600 kilometers and the remaining 21 kilometers will be done with the consent of our brothers [in Kabul],” Ahmed said while addressing a news conference in the federal capital.
Pakistan’s civil-military leadership says the country has managed to fortify much of the Pak-Afghan by digging trenches and building the fence despite Kabul’s protestations.
However, the issue was once again highlighted after some social media videos showed Taliban fighters purportedly uprooting a portion of the fence with trucks, claiming it had been built inside the Afghan territory.
Pakistan’s foreign office raised the issue with the Taliban administration, making the two sides agree to address any complications through “diplomatic channels.”
Earlier this week, Afghanistan’s acting envoy to Pakistan Sardar Ahmed Khan Shakib told Arab News in an exclusive interview that any decision on the Pak-Afghan border would be taken by the people of his country.
IMF-backed bills
The interior minister also told the media the passage of the finance and central bank autonomy bills from parliament would help improve the country’s fragile currency and investments in the coming days.
The National Assembly of Pakistan on Thursday passed the two bills with majority vote amid protest by opposition parties.
The government has now imposed a uniform 17 percent general sales tax and withdrawn tax exemptions on certain items through its Rs350 billion supplementary finance bill.
The legislative process was carried out to ensure that Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility got clearance from the International Monetary Fund’s executive board.
The IMF was originally scheduled to review Pakistan’s progress on January 12 in its board meeting to release a $1 billion tranche after the country’s completion of the pre-requisites which also included autonomy for the State Bank of Pakistan.
However, it postponed the review until the end of the month due to a delay in the passage of the two bills.
“No one goes to the IMF happily, but this had become a compulsion under the existing circumstances” the interior minister said. “This will help improve [the value of] our rupee [against the US dollar] and investments.”
Listing the government’s economic achievements in the last three years, Rashid said all economic indicators were showing progress and the country was heading in the right direction.
Pakistan has availed 23 IMF loan programs that are valued to be around $38 billion in the last seven years to support its fragile economy. The current administration of the country decided to seek help from the international lender after facing a balance of payments crisis amid increasing imports and rising trade deficit.
“The real issue of this nation is economic and fiscal,” the minister said.
The opposition parties have criticized the government for introducing the bills in parliament, saying they would compromise the country’s economic independence and sovereignty.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former prime minister and senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, said the government had passed the bills in a rush which would prove detrimental to the country’s economy.
“The IMF should know that these bills will be withdrawn,” he said on Friday while talking to the media in Islamabad. “These bills will benefit the IMF, not Pakistan.”


Pakistan president asks PM to reconsider advice to appoint new Punjab governor 

Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistan president asks PM to reconsider advice to appoint new Punjab governor 

  • Earlier this month, President Alvi rejected PM Sharif’s advice to remove key Imran Khan ally as governor 
  • Punjab chief minister’s fate also hangs in balance as electoral body de-seats 25 provincial lawmakers 

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Saturday conveyed to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to reconsider his advice to appoint a new governor of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, saying Omar Sarfraz Cheema “still holds the office of the governor and there is no occasion to propose a new appointment,” the president’s office said.

Cheema, a member of ex-PM Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was appointed Punjab governor last month amid a no-confidence motion filed against Khan in parliament, which saw many of his allies, including then governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, jumping ship and joining the opposition. Khan was subsequently ousted from office in the no-trust vote and Sharif appointed the new PM by parliament.

In early May, the Sharif-led government sent a summary to the president, also a close Khan aide, to remove Cheema, nominating a senior ruling party leader Baligh-ur-Rehman as his replacement.

President Alvi had on May 9 rejected the summary of the prime minister, but Cheema was removed from the post the same day, with a Cabinet Division notification stating he had ceased to hold the office on the advice of PM Sharif sent to the president on two occasions.

“Referring to President’s Secretariat’s earlier communication, dated May 09, 2022, the President reiterated that ‘the Governor shall hold office during the pleasure of the President,’ as envisaged by Article 101 (2) of the Constitution,” a statement from the president’s office said.

“He added that the present circumstances demanded that the incumbent Governor should continue to hold that position.”

A governor in Pakistan is the appointed head of state of a province. He or she is appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister and can serve for a tenure that lasts up to five years.

The president made a reference to the Punjab governor’s letter, dated April 23, and a May 4 report, which highlighted that the change in loyalties of the members of the Punjab Assembly during the election of the Punjab chief minister and cobbling of the majority by “illegal means had generated serious governance issues in the province as well as violated the Article 63-A of the Constitution.”

President Alvi said the principled stance of the governor had been vindicated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The top court on May 17 ruled that dissident lawmakers of a party could not cast their vote as it interpreted Article 63-A of the constitution, which relates to the disqualification of parliamentarians for voting, or abstaining from voting, against the party guidelines.

President Alvi said the stance of Governor Cheema was further augmented by the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision, declaring the defection of 25 provincial lawmakers in the election of chief minister as the “worst form of betraying the electorate and party’s policy.”

The ECP on Friday de-seated 25 dissident legislators belonging to Khan’s party, who had defected and voted for opposition candidate Hamza Shehbaz in the election for the Punjab chief minister’s slot last month.

With these 25 lawmakers no longer members of the House, Shehbaz, who won the April 16 election for the chief minister, has lost his majority in the Punjab Assembly, raising questions about the status of his government.

“In view of the above-mentioned facts, the president asked the prime minister to reconsider his advice with regard to the appointment of a new Governor Punjab in accordance with Article 48 (1) of the Constitution,” the statement from the president’s office added.


Mob torches police station, stones murder suspect to death in northwest Pakistan 

Updated 42 min 44 sec ago

Mob torches police station, stones murder suspect to death in northwest Pakistan 

  • More than 1,000 people attacked the police station in Bajaur’s Nawagai area on Friday 
  • Additional police contingents have since been deployed in Nawagai, 24 suspects arrested 

PESHAWAR: A mob set fire to a police station and stoned a murder suspect to death in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province on Friday, a top police officer said.
The Nawagai police received a complaint on Wednesday that a man named Abdul Ghafoor had gone missing in Bara Kamangara village in Bajaur tribal district, with relatives accusing Abdul Rasheed of kidnapping him.
District Police Officer (DPO) Abdul Samad Khan told Arab News a police team was constituted that found body of the missing person in a remote area the same day. The police managed to arrest the murder suspect on Thursday.
“On Friday, around 1,200 people forced their way into the police station and set fire to it,” Khan said. “The law enforcers present inside fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd, but the mob broke the lockup’s door, dragged the suspect out and stoned him to death.”
Malik Farmanullah, a local tribal elder, said the killing has sent shock waves across the district and put a question mark on the role of police. He called the incident purely an “outcome of personal grudge” between the two families.
“The infuriated mob believed it would never get justice if the matter reached the courts,” Farmanullah said.
Arab News made repeated attempts, but could not reach the family of the deceased for comments.
Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and an expert on tribal affairs, linked the incident to the absence of a multipronged government strategy and procedural delays in the merger of Bajaur, one of seven districts of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with KP province.
“Police and judicial systems are not fully functional in the erstwhile FATA, despite the fact that the restive areas were merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018,” he said. 
“The process of FATA-KP merger goes at a snail’s pace, which is a constant source of trouble for locals.”
The government merged the tribal districts with KP to bring relief to the restive region, which borders Afghanistan and has long endured the presence of militant groups and military operations against them.
But despite political and legal mainstreaming of the region of over 5 million residents, development is slow, with many not having access to most basic services, including health and education.
Soon after the incident, according to DPO Khan, additional police contingents were called in to bring the tense situation under control and arrest the perpetrators.
“We have detained 28 suspects who had a lead role in storming the police station,” he said. “The incident occurred at a time when most of the policemen were out on duty.”
The DPO said police officials were holding talks with local elders to ensure calm in the area and thwart any untoward incident. The police were investigating the matter from different angles and it would be too early to conclude anything, he added.


Islamabad says Beijing has agreed to 'phased return' of Pakistani students to China

Updated 21 May 2022

Islamabad says Beijing has agreed to 'phased return' of Pakistani students to China

  • Pakistani embassy says both sides are finalizing arrangements for the return of first batch of students 
  • 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese varsities, with a majority stuck in Pakistan since 2020 

ISLAMABAD: Beijing has agreed on a "phased return" of Pakistani students to Chinese universities, the Pakistani embassy in China said on Friday, which would be subject to the COVID-19 situation in the host country.

Around 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions, with most of them stuck in Pakistan since China suspended entry of foreign nationals in March 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19.

For more than a year, the Pakistani government had been saying it was in touch with the Chinese authorities to help Pakistani students return to their colleges and universities.

In a telephonic conversation on May 16, the Pakistani embassy said, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif discussed the issue with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang and conveyed the sentiments of the families of Pakistani students who wished to resume their studies in China.

“The embassy had long been engaged with the relevant Chinese authorities regarding the return of Pakistani students to their universities in China,” the Pakistani embassy said in statement.

“Resultantly, the two sides have agreed for phased return subject to the Covid-19 situation in China.”

In the recent telephonic conversation, the statement said, the Chinese premier assured that Beijing accorded “high priority” to the matter. “Two sides are now finalizing arrangements for return of 1st batch of students at an early date,” it read.

The Pakistani embassy said it would keep pursuing the matter with the Chinese authorities for the return of the remaining students as well.


Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game 

Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game 

  • Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four 
  • Azhar arrived at Worcestershire’s headquarters after a successful Test series against Australia 

LONDON: Pakistan’s Azhar Ali made an unbeaten double century as he helped Worcestershire rewrite the record books in an English County Championship match against Leicestershire on Friday.
Azhar and former England Under-19 international Jack Haynes put on 281 for the third wicket — a record partnership against Leicestershire, surpassing the 278 by Cyril Walters and Harold Gibbons in 1934.
Their stand was the cornerstone of Worcestershire’s 456 for three, a lead of 308, at stumps on the second day of four at New Road.
Haynes was eventually dismissed for 127 but Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four off Rehan Ahmed.
By that stage Azhar had faced 328 balls, with one six and 18 fours, and also shared in another century stand with Brett D’Oliveira (52 not out).
Azhar arrived at New Road, Worcestershire’s headquarters, after a successful Test series against Australia which included a marathon 185 spanning 11 hours at Rawalpindi.
The 37-year-old struggled at first with the change to English conditions and his opening six innings for Midlands county Worcestershire yielded 34 runs.
But the former Pakistan captain has found his form since hitting 92 against a Durham attack including new England skipper Ben Stokes.


‘Dance Icon’: Breakdancing makes school boy a household name in Pakistan’s Balochistan

Updated 21 May 2022

‘Dance Icon’: Breakdancing makes school boy a household name in Pakistan’s Balochistan

  • 10-year-old Subhan Sohail was inspired to dance after seeing Michael Jackson’s videos online
  • Sohail has never received professional training and hones his skills by watching online videos 

QUETTA: Subhan Sohail was six years old when he first saw a video of the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, on his mother’s cellphone and announced he wanted to be a break-dancer.
Four years later, Sohail, 10, has become a household name in his home province of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan since a video of him in his school uniform breakdancing went viral after a teacher shared it on social media.
“People started praising me, which gave me confidence,” the resident of Degari Kahan village in Kech district told Arab News.
Subhan’s mother, who only identified herself by her first name Shereen, said she supported her son pursuing breakdancing as a career, though the family had faced some opposition in Balochistan where many conservative Pakistanis frown on dancing. And breakdancing, an art form born on the streets of New York City in the 1970s, is a novel concept in the impoverished province. 
“I was very happy after hearing that my son’s video was appreciated,” Sohail’s mother said. “But later many people in our family discouraged Subhan and told him that dancing was not thought to be a good profession within our rural society.”
“Despite such negative comments,” she added, “I still want him to take up dancing as a career because my son wants to be a world class dancer.”
Sohail, who has never taken any professional lessons, says he learns new skills by watching online videos. That’s also how he started his dancing journey:
“I learned how to breakdance by watching videos on my mother’s cellphone. I was six years old and started practicing at my house without taking any dance classes.”
On a regular day, Sohail said, he spends two hours after school practicing.
Lately, performing in public has become a favorite activity.
“Initially, I was shy and hesitant to dance in public,” Sohail said. “Then my family supported me and emboldened me to perform at school and family events.”
Amul Sakin Baloch, a teacher at the dancer’s school for the last 11 years, said her young student was a “hero,” entertaining others with his unique talent.
“I first uploaded his dance video on social media after which many people requested me to share it again because they loved his performance,” Baloch told Arab News. “Now he has become a dance icon for the whole province of Balochistan.”
Sohail Ismael, a driver employed at the school his son attends, said he had never discouraged Sohail from pursuing his passion, but wanted him to become an engineer to secure a more viable future.
“He was reluctant to dance in front of me and used to practice in my absence,” Ismael said. “But I have been encouraging him and now he often shows me his new dance moves.”