Protesters block Pakistan highway after arrest of women accused of attack plot

Protesters block a highway in Hoshab, Pakistan, on May 17, 2022, to protest against the arrest of two women, one of whom security officials described as a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target Chinese citizens. (Social media)
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Updated 17 May 2022

Protesters block Pakistan highway after arrest of women accused of attack plot

  • Arrests of women are rare in southwestern Balochistan province and the detentions have enraged supporters
  • Highway links Quetta with Gwadar port and was built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative

QUETTA: Hundreds of protesters blocked a highway in Pakistan for second day on Tuesday to protest against the arrest of two women, one of whom security officials described as a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target Chinese citizens.

Police arrested one woman who they said planned to blow herself up near a convoy of Chinese nationals and that they had recovered explosives and detonators from her.

On Tuesday officials confirmed a second woman had also been arrested.

Arrests of women are rare in southwestern Balochistan province and the detentions have enraged supporters. The protesters said they would continue their sit-in until the women, who they said were innocent, were freed.

“It is all lies,” Dost Gulzar, a political activist who is leading the protest, told Reuters.

The arrests came two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up on a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers.

The woman belonged to the militant separatist group the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has waged a violent secessionist insurgency in Balochistan, and has targeted Chinese interests in the region.

The sit-in is taking place in the town where the women were arrested, Hoshab, some 415 miles (670 km) south of provincial capital Quetta. The highway links Quetta with Gwadar port and was built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.

China, a close Pakistan ally, plans to invest over $65 billion in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — a part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to seek road and sea trade routes to connect with the rest of the world.
Beijing is also developing the Gwadar deep-water port.

The local administration is negotiating with the protesters, asking them to unblock the highway as a large number of vehicles are stuck, a senior official from the Balochistan police told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

Rights activists have long accused security forces of extrajudicial abductions and killings in Balochistan. Security officials say the accusations are exaggerated and not always linked with the state.


Day after arrest, court orders police to present TV anchorman before Rawalpindi magistrate

Updated 24 min 8 sec ago

Day after arrest, court orders police to present TV anchorman before Rawalpindi magistrate

  • Imran Riaz Khan is an outspoken supporter of ex-PM Imran Khan and of late a critic of the powerful military
  • Khan was arrested Tuesday on outskirts of Islamabad and produced in Attock district court on Wednesday

ISLAMABAD: A local court in Attock district on Wednesday disposed of a plea by TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan against his arrest by Punjab police in a treason case, ruling that the matter did not fall within its jurisdiction and asking police to present the suspect before a magistrate in Rawalpindi.

Khan, an outspoken supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and of late a critic of the powerful military, was arrested Tuesday on the outskirts of Islamabad and produced before a district magistrate today, Wednesday, for remand.

Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister through a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April. He contends his removal was part of a US plot, a charge Washington denies.

Police registered a case against the TV anchor on June 29 under six different sections of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) along with four different sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, mainly relating to abetting, incitement and defamation.

“The case doesn’t fall in my jurisdiction. You may move the relevant forum,” the judge advised Khan’s legal team after a lengthy hearing.

Advocate Qadeer Janjua, a member of Imran Riaz Khan’s legal team, told Arab News the case included sections of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, which the Attock judge was not authorized to hear.

“The police are now taking Imran Riaz to Rawalpindi court to present him before a relevant judge,” he said, adding that police were duty-bound to present an arrested person before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.

“We will try our best to secure the bail of Imran Riaz as we believe he is implicated in a false and fabricated case,” Janjua added.

Earlier in an over 95-minute-long hearing in Attock district court, the journalist’s counsel Mian Ali Ashfaq tried to establish through different judgments of the Supreme Court and by citing references from law that the arrest of his client was illegal.

The magistrate Yasir Tanveer questioned the public prosecutor and investigation officer in the case over the veracity of the evidence using which Khan was arrested.

Earlier in the day, the Islamabad High Court also disposed off Khan’s plea against his arrest, ruling that the case did not fall within its jurisdiction as he was arrested from Attock which falls in the precinct of the Lahore High Court. The Islamabad High Court had earlier barred the police from arresting Khan in different cases in the jurisdiction of the federal capital.

Malik Ahmad Khan, Punjab law minister, said around 20 separate cases had been registered against Khan for conspiring against and maligning state institutions.

“All evidence is available on digital media, he’ll have to face the trial,” he said at a news conference from the city of Multan.

The minister said Pakistan’s constitution guaranteed freedom of expression but with “reasonable restrictions” imposed by law against harming the security and integrity of the country and its foreign relations with friendly states.

He said the journalist was arrested from Attock in a case registered against him under section 121-A of Pakistan Penal Code (waging or attempting to wage war or abetting waging of war against Pakistan) for uploading a video on his YouTube channel with “objectionable content” regarding Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia. Islamabad and Riyadh are longtime allies.

“He has committed a cognizable offense, violated law and constitution and that’s why he has been arrested,” the law minister said.

Meanwhile, Pakistani opposition leaders and journalist unions have condemned Khan’s arrest and demanded the government ensure a fair legal process so that he may defend himself in court.

“There is an impression in sections of society that the government is trying to stifle the voices of those who oppose its policy,” the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is also widely believed the government is targeting media persons who are considered supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI),” the statement said. “Such impression should be dispelled and the government should not be seen targeting a certain section of the journalist fraternity.”

The Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) condemned Khan’s arrest and urged the government to release him immediately.

“If the government fails to mend its ways,” RIUJ said, “a strong protest will be lodged.”


Sri Lanka’s crisis rings alarm for other troubled economies, from Lebanon to Pakistan

Updated 06 July 2022

Sri Lanka’s crisis rings alarm for other troubled economies, from Lebanon to Pakistan

  • Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan has been in urgent talks with the IMF, hoping to revive a $6 billion bailout package 
  • Soaring crude oil prices pushed up fuel prices which in turn raised other costs, pushing inflation to over 21 percent

BANGKOK: Sri Lanka is desperate for help with weathering its worst crisis in recent memory. Its schools are closed for lack of fuel to get kids and teachers to classrooms. Its effort to arrange a bailout from the International Monetary Fund has been hindered by the severity of its financial crisis, its prime minister says.

But it’s not the only economy that’s in serious trouble as prices of food, fuel and other staples have soared with the war in Ukraine. Alarm bells are ringing for many economies around the world, from Laos and Pakistan to Venezuela and Guinea.

Some 1.6 billion people in 94 countries face at least one dimension of the crisis in food, energy and financial systems, and about 1.2 billion of them live in “perfect-storm” countries, severely vulnerable to a cost-of-living crisis plus other longer-term strains, according to a report last month by the Global Crisis Response Group of the United Nations Secretary-General.

The exact causes for their woes vary, but all share rising risks from surging costs for food and fuel, driven higher by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which hit just as disruptions to tourism and other business activity from the coronavirus pandemic were fading. As a result, the World Bank estimates that per capita incomes in developing economies will be 5 percent below pre-pandemic levels this year.

A daily wage laborer waits for work at a wholesale market in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, June 26, 2022. (AP)

The economic strains are fueling protests in many countries, as meanwhile, short-term, higher interest borrowing to help finance pandemic relief packages has heaped more debt on countries already struggling to meet repayment obligations. More than half of the world’s poorest countries are in debt distress or at high risk of it, according to the UN.

Some of the worst crises are in countries already devastated by corruption, civil war, coups or other calamities. They muddle along, but with an undue burden of suffering.

Here’s a look at a few of the economies that are in dire straits or at greatest risk.

PAKISTAN

Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan has been in urgent talks with the IMF, hoping to revive a $6 billion bailout package that was put on hold after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was ousted in April. Soaring crude oil prices pushed up fuel prices which in turn raised other costs, pushing inflation to over 21 percent. A government minister’s appeal to cut back on tea drinking to reduce the $600 million bill for imported tea angered many Pakistanis. Pakistan’s currency, the rupee, has fallen about 30 percent against the US dollar in the past year. To gain the IMF’s support, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has raised fuel prices, abolished fuel subsidies and imposed a new, 10 percent “super tax” on major industries to help repair the country’s tattered finances. As of late March, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen to $13.5 billion, equivalent to just two months of imports. “Macroeconomic risks are strongly tilted to the downside,” the World Bank warned in its latest assessment.


AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan has been reeling from a dire economic crisis since the Taliban took control as the US and its NATO allies withdrew their forces last year. Foreign aid — long a mainstay — stopped practically overnight and governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration froze $7 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves held in the United States. About half the country’s 39 million people face life-threatening levels of food insecurity and most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have been unpaid for months. A recent earthquake killed more than 1,000 people, adding to those miseries.

A man stands among piles of humanitarian food supplies in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (AP/FILE)

ARGENTINA

About four of every 10 Argentines are poor and its central bank is running perilously low on foreign reserves as its currency weakens. Inflation is forecast to exceed 70 percent this year. Millions of Argentines survive largely thanks to soup kitchens and state welfare programs, many of which are funneled through politically powerful social movements linked to the ruling party. A recent deal with the IMF to restructure $44 billion in debt faces questions over concessions that critics say will hinder a recovery.

EGYPT

Egypt’s inflation rate surged to almost 15 percent in April, causing privation especially for the nearly one-third of its 103 million people living in poverty. They were already suffering from an ambitious reform program that includes painful austerity measures like floating the national currency and slashing subsidies for fuel, water and electricity. The central bank raised interest rates to curb inflation and devalued the currency, adding to difficulties in repaying Egypt’s sizable foreign debt. Egypt’s net foreign reserves have fallen. Its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $22 billion in deposits and direct investments as assistance.

People crowd a msjor street in Cairo, Egypt, April 14, 2020. (AP/FILE)

LAOS

Tiny, landlocked Laos was one of the fastest growing economies until the pandemic hit. Its debt levels have surged and like Sri Lanka, it is in talks with creditors on how to repay billions of dollars worth of loans. That’s an urgent issue given the country’s weak government finances. Its foreign reserves are equal to less than two months of imports, the World Bank says. A 30 percent depreciation in the Lao currency, the kip, has worsened those woes. Rising prices and job losses due to the pandemic threaten to worsen poverty.

LEBANON

Lebanon shares with Sri Lanka a toxic combination of currency collapse, shortages, punishing levels of inflation and growing hunger, snaking queues for gas and a decimated middle class. It, too, endured a long civil war, its recovery hampered by government dysfunction and terror attacks.

Residents raise their hands as they cross a street during a protest against rising prices of consumer goods and the crash of local currency in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.  (AP/FILE)

Proposed taxes in late 2019 ignited longstanding anger against the ruling class and months of protests. The currency began to sink and Lebanon defaulted on paying back worth about $90 billion at the time, or 170 percent of GDP — one of the highest in the world. In June 2021, with the currency having lost nearly 90 percent of its value, the World Bank said the crisis ranked as one of the worst the world has seen in more than 150 years.

MYANMAR

The pandemic and political instability have buffeted Myanmar’s economy, especially after the army seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. That brought Western sanctions targeting commercial holdings controlled by the army, which dominate the economy. The economy contracted by 18 percent last year and is forecast to barely grow in 2022. More than 700,000 people have fled or been forced from their homes by armed conflicts and political violence. The situation is so uncertain, a recent global economic update from the World Bank excluded forecasts for Myanmar for 2022-2024.

TURKEY

Worsening government finances and a growing trade and capital account deficit have compounded Turkey’s troubles with high and rising debt, inflation — at over 60 percent — and high unemployment. The Central Bank resorted to using foreign reserves to fend off a currency crisis, after the beleaguered lira fell to all-time lows against the US dollar euro in late 2021. Tax cuts and fuel subsidies to cushion the blow from inflation have weakened government finances. Families are struggling to buy food and other goods, while Turkey’s foreign debt is about 54 percent of its GDP, an unsustainable level given the high level of government debt.

A man buys bread in Ulus district of the capital Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, May 5, 2022. (AP/FILE)

ZIMBABWE

Inflation in Zimbabwe has surged to more than 130 percent, raising fears the country could return to the hyperinflation of 2008 that reached 500 billion percent and heaping problems on its already fragile economy. Zimbabwe struggles to generate an adequate inflow of greenbacks needed for its largely dollarized local economy, which has been battered by years of de-industrialization, corruption, low investment, low exports and high debt. Inflation has left Zimbabweans distrustful of the currency, adding to demand for US dollars. And many skip meals as they struggle to make ends meet.


Pakistan climbing season reaches new heights as 1,400 foreign mountaineers arrive

Updated 06 July 2022

Pakistan climbing season reaches new heights as 1,400 foreign mountaineers arrive

  • The country is home to five of the world’s 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters
  • 57 expeditions planned for 23 Pakistan peaks this season, with 370 climbers climbing K2

SKARDU: Pakistan is enjoying a bumper climbing season with around 1,400 foreign mountaineers bidding to scale its lofty peaks — including hundreds on the 8,611-meter (28,251-feet) K2, the world’s second-highest.

The country is home to five of the world’s 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters, and climbing them all is considered the ultimate achievement of any mountaineer.
“It is a record number,” Raja Nasir Ali Khan, tourism minister of Gilgit-Baltistan region, told AFP about the number of foreign climbers this year.
Karrar Haidri, secretary of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told AFP there were 57 expeditions planned for 23 Pakistan peaks this season — with 370 climbers having a crack at K2, known as “the savage mountain.”
Besides being far more technically difficult to climb than Everest, weather conditions are notoriously fickle on K2, which has only being scaled by 425 people since 1954.
More than 6,000 people have climbed Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first reached the top in 1953 — some of them multiple times.
Haidri said climbers this year include 90 women — including at least two Pakistanis aiming to become the country’s first to scale K2.
Russian Oxana Morneva is leading a team on the mountain, having failed in her own attempt in 2012 when she was forced back after injuring her knee.
“My rope was broken by falling rocks,” she told AFP.
She said she had no apprehension about returning.
“When we go to the mountain we have to be peaceful inside, and we have to know what we are doing,” she added.
Around 200 climbers will attempt to scale the 8,051-meter Broad Peak, while similar numbers will try Gasherbrum-I (8,080 meters) and Gasherbrum-II (8,035 meters).
A 36-year-old Norwegian climber, Kristin Harila, is also aiming to reach the world’s 14 highest mountain summits in record time.
Having already climbed seven peaks of over 8,000 meters, Harila hopes to match, if not beat, Nepali adventurer Nirmal Purja’s ambitious six months and six days record.
The summer climbing season that started in early June lasts until late August.


Pakistan advises holiday-goers to follow COVID-19 guidelines over Eid festival 

Updated 15 min 34 sec ago

Pakistan advises holiday-goers to follow COVID-19 guidelines over Eid festival 

  • Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions
  • In 24 hours, Pakistan recorded 805 positive cases, fresh COVID guidelines issued for five-day Eid holiday 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) on Wednesday urged people to strictly follow COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) while holidaying during the Eid Al-Adha festival that starts on Sunday. 

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions.

But the South Asian nation has seen a spike in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, with the national positivity ratio rising to 4.69 percent in the last 24 hours, as 805 tests turned out positive. Over 168 patients are currently in critical care at hospitals across the country.

The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s federal pandemic response body, also said the COVID-19 positivity rate had reached 17.46 percent in Abbottabad, a main tourist destination in the northwest of the country.

“Strictly adhere to coronavirus safety precautions during your tourist trips,” the NIH said in a statement. “The risk of spreading the coronavirus increases at crowded places, so make sure to use a face mask and [use] hand sanitizer.”

The body also advised people to maintain social distance and ensure that all those traveling to tourist destinations were fully vaccinated and had gotten booster doses

On Tuesday, the government issued fresh guidelines for Eid Al-Adha. 

“Eid UI Adha prayers should be organized in open spaces under stringent COVID protocols. In case of any compulsion to offer the prayers inside mosques, then all windows and doors should be kept open for ventilation / to minimize the chances of disease spread,” the NCOC said in a statement.

The body said up to three Eid prayers should be organized at a single venue with staggered timings to allow maximum people to offer prayers with COVID-19 protocols in place.

“All ulemas leading Eid prayers should be sensitised to keep sermons ... short so that people remain present in the prayer venues for a brief duration,” the guidelines said. “Efforts should be made to discourage sick, elderly and young children from attending Eid prayers.”

People without face masks should not be allowed to enter prayer venues, the NCOC said, adding that prayer venues should have multiple entry and exit points and venue organizers should ensure the availability of hand sanitisers.

“It should be mandatory for all coming for prayers to use sanitisers before entering the venue,” the guidelines said.

“To ensure social distancing protocols, venue organizers to ensure prominent marking (6 feet apart) to allow sufficient space/distance between individuals. People should be encouraged to perform abulution at home before coming for the prayers and also bring their own prayer mats to the venue. Efforts should be made to sensitise people to refrain from embracing and handshaking after the prayer to avoid chances of disease transmission. There should not be any gathering at the prayer venue before the prayer and people should be asked to disperse immediately after the prayer.”

The NCOC said efforts would be made to promote and encourage central and collective sacrifices through various public, private and community organizations, while ensuring adherence to the COVID-19 protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing and avoidance of crowds.


Torrential rains kill 77 people in Pakistan since mid-June, most deaths in Balochistan

Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Torrential rains kill 77 people in Pakistan since mid-June, most deaths in Balochistan

  • At least 20 deaths in Balochistan occurred in the last 24 hours of rain
  • In 2010, worst floods in memory affected 20 million people in Pakistan

Quetta: Pakistani minister for climate change Sherry Rehman said on Wednesday 77 people had died since June 14 as monsoon rains wreaked havoc in the country, with almost half the deaths taking place in the impoverished southwestern province of Balochistan.
The Pakistan Meteorological office had predicted heavy rainfall and thunderstorms from June 30 to July 5 and also issued a weather warning for urban floods in some regions.
“77 people have died since June 14 in monsoon rains,” Rehman said at a press conference, adding that the monsoon rain pattern was moving from the north of the country to the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.
“Most deaths were in Balochistan till morning [Wednesday]. We got the figure of 39 deaths in the province,” she said, adding that children and women were among those who had lost their lives. Media reported that at least 20 of the Balochistan deaths had occurred in the last 24 hours of rain.
Rehman said Pakistan had received “above normal” levels of rains during June and July.
The government of Balochistan has declared Quetta a “natural calamity-hit area,” with 10 people, including women and children, killed due to torrential rains that hit the provincial capital on Monday at the start of the monsoon season. 
More than 350 mud houses also collapsed in Quetta while six members of a family were killed after a mud wall collapsed on a tent in the Link Badini area of Quetta.


Children wade through a flooded area after a monsoon rainfall in Quetta, Pakistan on July 5, 2022. (AFP)

The district administration of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, has established a flood emergency control room to monitor and address emergencies in the city and its adjacent areas.
“The monsoon rains and floods have badly hit Quetta, Killa Saifullah, Kachi, Harnai, Khuzdar, Zhob, Kohlu, Kalat, and Lasbela districts and casualties and damages have been reported in the areas since the pre-monsoon rains spell in Balochistan,” the head of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, Naseer Khan Nasir, told Arab News.
“39 people have been killed in various rain-related incidents in the province since the pre-monsoon started since June 13 and more than 60 people have been injured but the torrential rains that started from July 04 have caused major destruction,” he added.
Balochistan government spokeswoman Farrah Azeem Shah said the government was utilizing all resources to ensure relief reached the people affected by torrential rains and floods.
“The government will start damage assessment and rehabilitation work after completing the rescue operation,” she said. “We are fully prepared to handle the second spell of monsoon as the Met office has predicted more rains in various districts of Balochistan in the next 48 hours.”
“Rescue & relief operation of @PDMABalochistan & Quetta district administration is underway, food items & other necessities have been distributed among rain affected families in Bakra Mandi Western Bypass & other areas,” assistant commissioner in the Sariyab area of Quetta said on Twitter.
Director PDMA Attaullah Baloch said rescue teams had retrieved four bodies from the Khasnoob area of district Killa Saifullah of people who drowned in floods on Tuesday. The bodies of four children who slipped into a ravine in Turbat had also been recovered.
Assistant Commissioner Mach, Ayesha Zehri, said five coal miners had drowned in a flash flood in Mach.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has urged provincial authorities to take preventive measures to avoid loss of life and damage to property. The rains have also affected telecommunication and power supply in some parts of the country.
In 2010, the worst floods in memory affected 20 million people in Pakistan, with damage to infrastructure running into billions of dollars and huge swaths of crops destroyed as one fifth of the country was inundated.