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’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signs agreements worth $8 billion at Expo Dubai

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signs agreements worth $8 billion at Expo Dubai

  • Foreign firms, investors express keen interest in industrial, infrastructure, food processing and energy sectors
  • Feasibility reports of projects presented at the mega exhibition have already been completed, officials say

KARACHI: The provincial government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province on Sunday signed over 40 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) at Expo 2020 Dubai that would bring foreign investment worth $8 billion home, the KP investment board and officials said. 
Described as “the event of the century,” the expo kicked off in October, bringing together representatives from more than 190 countries. The exhibition is the largest global gathering since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and will run until April 2022. 
Pakistan’s pavilion at the expo has been highlighting investment opportunities, tourism potential and cultural magnificence of the country. In January, its highlight is the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 
Foreign firms and investors expressed their keen interest in various projects in tourism, industrial, infrastructure, food processing, livestock, energy and power sectors, and a water sports theme park in KP’s Swabi district at an investment conference at Expo Dubai on Sunday. 
“International firms have signed 44 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) worth $8 billion during the Expo 2020 Dubai,” KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra said, while addressing attendees at the conference. 
Jhagra said the KP government had presented these projects in a better way. “For the promotion of tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government is presenting ready projects at the expo for investment,” he said. 

KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra is addressing the attendees at the conference in Dubai, UAE, on January 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @kptourism/Twitter)

KP had vast investment opportunities in tourism, energy and power, infrastructure and other sectors, according to the minister. The Swat Expressway was built under a public-private partnership and now it was being extended to other cities to boost trade and economy, he said. 
Among the attendees at the conference were chief executive officers (CEOs) of the Samara Group, Mazaya Group (EGI), Jannat & AJ Group, Almasa Group and a number of Dubai-based and international investors, who expressed their willingness to invest in various tourism projects in the northwestern Pakistani province. 
“Investment groups that have signed MoUs include Enertech-Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), Private Office of Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook-Al-Maktoum, Samara Group, VR Group, Sigma Group, Malik Foams, Nobel Future Land & many others,” KP chief minister Mahmood Khan said on Twitter. 
“Investments in the development of food processing zones, integrated tourism zones (ITZ), Solarization of Economic Zones, Construction of Transmission Lines across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will help in transforming KP by creating economic opportunities and increase in employment.” 

 Jhagra said his government had planned to establish an Overseas Pakistan Council to facilitate investors, saying the process was currently in the legislation stage. The KP government had established a special economic zone (SEZ) in Rashakai and that people were now coming to invest in the province, he added. 
KP culture minister Shaukat Yousafzai said the province had a huge potential for investment and these agreements would help increase the flow of foreign investment into the province. 

Pakistan's ambassador to UAE Afzaal Mehmood (first left) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincal ministers attend the ceremony at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, UAE, on January 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @kptourism/Twitter)

Shahab Ali Shah, the KP additional chief secretary, said only those projects were presented at the expo, whose feasibility reports were complete and only investors were needed. 
“The government is ready to provide a one-window facility to investors,” he added. 

Pakistan’s pandemic response body meets today to ponder new virus curbs

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan’s pandemic response body meets today to ponder new virus curbs

  • Provincial health and education ministers asked to propose restrictions for different sectors
  • Pakistan reported over 4,000 cases of coronavirus for the second consecutive day on Sunday

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), Pakistan’s top pandemic response body, will hold an important meeting on Monday to mull new restrictions relating to coronavirus, Pakistani state media reported, as the South Asian nation continues to fight a fifth wave of the virus infections. 

Pakistan reported over 4,000 new infections for the second consecutive day on Sunday. According to official figures, at least 4,027 people tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours, taking the overall virus positivity rate to 7.8 percent in the country. 

The fifth wave of the infections is primarily driven by the highly transmissible omicron strain, which emerged in South Africa in November last year and rapidly spread to other parts of the world. 

In its meeting on Saturday, the NCOC discussed the disease prevalence and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in the wake of rising infections in the country, especially in urban centers, the state-run APP news agency reported. 

"It reviewed the existing NPIs and called on provincial health and education ministers session on 17 January [20]22 to suggest the new set of NPIs focusing on education sector, public gatherings, marriage ceremonies, indoor/outdoor dining and transport sector," the report read. 

The NCOC decided to engage with provinces, especially Sindh, to take necessary measures to stem the spread of coronavirus. 

It ordered a complete ban on inflight serving of meals and snacks from Monday. Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been tasked to ensure people follow all coronavirus-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) at airports and on flights. 

The NCOC called upon provincial governments to take stern action against violators of coronavirus SOPs and ensure the enforcement of the obligatory vaccination regime.   

The pandemic response body also asked provinces to carry out immediate surveys of healthcare facilities, fast-track vaccination drive and ramp up efforts to achieve targets.

Pakistan asks world to hold India accountable for ‘harassment,’ ‘illegal arrests’ of journalists

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan asks world to hold India accountable for ‘harassment,’ ‘illegal arrests’ of journalists

  • Journalists have increasingly voiced concerns about harassment and threats in disputed Kashmir
  • Many of them have been arrested, beaten and sometimes investigated under antiterrorism laws

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday called on the international community, particularly the United Nations and international human rights groups, to hold India accountable for its “unabated harassment and illegal arrests” of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists in India-administered Kashmir. 
Journalists have increasingly voiced concerns about harassment and threats by the police that have effectively restricted reporting after India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomy and divided the region under its control into two federally governed territories in 2019. Many journalists have been arrested, beaten, harassed and sometimes investigated under antiterrorism laws. 
On Saturday, a group of journalists, with the alleged help of local administration, forced their way into the Kashmir Press Club’s (KPC) administration office in Srinagar and announced themselves “interim” KPC office-bearers, prompting condemnations from independent journalist bodies in India. 
Pakistan condemned the “increasing harassment, illegal arrests and registration of fake criminal cases” against journalists and civil society activists in India-administered Kashmir, the Pakistani foreign office said. 
“The reported attack on Kashmir Press Club yesterday manifestly reflects India’s entrenched use of brute force and coercion to forcibly silence those raising voices against its horrendous crimes and egregious human rights violations,” it said in a statement. 
“Equally condemnable is the increasing use of draconian and inhumane laws including Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Public Safety Act (PSA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) with impunity in IIOJK (Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir), which reflects India’s colonial mindset.” 
On Sunday, the Editors Guild of India, a non-partisan association of editorial leaders committed to free, fair and independent journalism, said it was “aghast at the manner in which the office and the management of Kashmir Press Club, the largest journalists’ association in the Valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on January 15, 2022.” 

Earlier this month, Indian soldiers picked up a Kashmiri journalist, Sajjad Gul, from his home in northeastern Shahgund village and later handed him over to the police, his family said. He had posted a video of family members and relatives protesting the killing of a rebel commander on Monday. 
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest of Gul and asked Indian authorities to immediately release him. 
India’s decision to strip the region of its special powers in August 2019 brought journalism to a near halt in Kashmir for months. India began implementing a policy in 2020 that gives the government more power to censure independent reporting. 
Fearing reprisals from government agencies, most of the local press has wilted under pressure. Journalists have also come under scrutiny through anonymous online threats the government says are linked to rebels fighting against Indian rule. 
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim it in full. 
Since 1989, a full-blown armed rebellion has raged in Indian-controlled Kashmir seeking a united Kashmir — either under Pakistani rule or independent of both countries. 
The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict. 

‘Fearless leadership’: Pakistani cricketers heap praise on Kohli after India Test exit

Updated 16 January 2022

‘Fearless leadership’: Pakistani cricketers heap praise on Kohli after India Test exit

  • Kohli remained India’s most successful Test captain, with the sides winning 40 out of 68 matches in his reign
  • Ahmad Shahzad, Mohammad Amir, Kainat Imtiaz, Naseem Shah laud ex-Indian skipper for leading India with aggression

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani cricketers have showered praise on Virat Kohli, who stepped down as India’s Test captain on Saturday, turning the side into a formidable team in the longest format of the game. 
Kohli made his mark as India’s most successful Test captain to date. The right-handed batter helped India achieve 40 Test wins out of the 68 matches he captained his side in.  
Cricket analysts have praised Kohli for inspiring fearless cricket into the team and transforming it into a disciplined unit that hungered for victories, both on Indian soil and abroad.  
As tributes flowed in from current and former cricketers, commentators and analysts, Pakistani players also praised the former Indian skipper.  
Pakistani cricketer Ahmad Shahzad praised Kohli for the “fearless leadership” that he displayed as skipper of the Indian team.  
“That flare of passion with which you led your side was visible in your captaincy. It’s been 7 years of fearless leadership, quality spirit of cricket and a great ambassadorship of the game,” he tweeted. “Best wishes for the future bro @imVkohli, keep rocking.” 

Pakistani pacer Mohammad Amir, whose rivalry with the former Indian Test captain was enjoyed by millions of fans across the globe, described Kohli as a “true leader” for the upcoming generation of crickers.  

“Brother for me you are a true leader of the upcoming generation in cricket because you are an inspiration for young Cricketers. Keep rocking on and off the field,” Amir said on Twitter.  

Pakistan woman all-rounder Kainat Imtiaz described Kohli as “one of the greatest captains that we have seen.” 
“Hats off @imVkohli, real GOAT, real inspiration,” she said.  

Pakistani right-arm quickie Naseem Shah reacted to Kohli’s resignation, calling him an “inspiration for many.” 

When he announced his decision to step down as India’s Test captain, Kohli said he had always given his 120 percent for the team.  
“Everything has to come to a halt at some stage and for me as Test captain of India, it’s now … I have always believed in giving my 120 percent in everything I do, and if I can’t do that, I know it’s not the right thing to do,” he had posted on social media.  
“I have absolute clarity in my heart and I cannot be dishonest to my team,” he added.  
Last year in September, Kohli announced he would be stepping down as India’s T20 captain after the World Cup in November. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), India’s top cricket authority, replaced him with Rohit Sharma as India’s ODI captain in December.  
Sharma was also appointed India’s captain in the T20 format as well.  
As captain, Kohli led India to its first Test series win against Australia in 2018-2019 and also helped his team reach the final of the first World Test Championship in England.  
The Men in Blue, however, lost the Test championship to New Zealand.  

Family of jailed Pakistani neuroscientist denies links to hostage standoff at Texas synagogue

Updated 16 January 2022

Family of jailed Pakistani neuroscientist denies links to hostage standoff at Texas synagogue

  • US media reported hostage-taker demanded the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui who is serving an 86-year sentence in Texas
  • Siddiqui was convicted by a US court in 2010 on charges of attempting to kill American service members in Afghanistan

KARACHI: The family of a Pakistani neuroscientist jailed in the US denied on Sunday rumors over their relation to a standoff at a synagogue in Texas after American media reports linked them to the hostage taker. 
Four people were held hostage at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas after a gunman entered the synagogue during a Saturday morning service. The suspect was killed and hostages freed in the evening, following a tense standoff with police.
While authorities said they could not yet release the gunman’s identity to the public, US media reported he was motivated by a desire to free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence on charges of attempting to kill US service members in Afghanistan. Some news outlets said the gunman was Siddiqui’s brother.

The jailed scientist’s family denied the claims.

“False and baseless rumors of my and Aafia’s brother being involved in a hostage situation is another example of how American media and social media trolls jump to blame someone without any proof, especially if that someone is black, brown or Muslim,” Siddiqui’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, told Arab News.

In this file photo, Fowzia Siddiqui, left, sister of US detained Pakistani woman Aafia Siddiqui, speaks during a news conference with her mother Ismat Siddiqui , right, at their house in Karachi on Sept. 23, 2010. (AFP/ File)

She said the rumors came as her mother has been admitted to an intensive care unit.

“Both my brother and I were already preoccupied with her critical condition and this irresponsible reporting comes to add to our anguish,” Siddiqui said. “We are grateful for all the prayers, wishes and trust that our supporters have shown during this trying time.”

The family’s legal counsel in the US, John Floyd, called on the reporters who claimed the synagogue assailant was a member of Siddiqui’s family to correct their reports and issue an apology.

“This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia,” Floyd said in a statement. “Dr. Aafia’s family has always stood firm in advocating for the release of their sister from incarceration by legal and non-violent means only.” 

Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three with degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, is serving her sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas after a New York court in 2010 convicted of attempting to shoot and kill in Afghanistan a group of US soldiers and FBI agents who wanted to interrogate her for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.

Siddiqui’s sentencing has riled many in Pakistan, including the government that had campaigned for her release and paid for her legal defense.