Punjab chief minister promises 'immediate justice' in roadside gang-rape of minor girl

This file photo shows Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz arriving at the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on April 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 27 May 2022

Punjab chief minister promises 'immediate justice' in roadside gang-rape of minor girl

  • Two unidentified robbers raped 13-year-old at gun-point in front of family, police report says
  • Fewer than three percent of sexual assault or rape cases result in conviction in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz Sharif visited the family of a minor girl who was allegedly gang-raped on a roadside this week near the central Pakistani city of Patoki, promising that investigators would deliver "immediate justice."

A police report filed at the Patoki police station on May 26 and seen by Arab News said the incident took place on May 25. The case has been reported by the uncle of the victim who was accompanying his brother and his brother's two children on a motorcycle from village Kani near Pattoki city to a village in Chunian where the family lives.

The group was stopped by two robbers along the route, who escorted them to a nursery on the road side, tied up the male relatives and gang-raped the girl at gunpoint. The robbers then fled with cash, mobile phones and the motorcycle.

The incident has revived memories of a widely reported assault in September 2020 when a woman was gang-raped beside a major highway in front of her two children, and led to new calls for tougher punishment for sexual crimes against women and children.

“I went to the house of the daughter who suffered from the inhumane incident at Chunian,” CM Sharif wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “I consoled them that it was my duty to provide them immediate justice.” 

Shahbaz said his “heart is crying tears of blood” and the best police officers in Punjab were investigating the case.  

“The suspects will soon be brought to justice,” he added.  

Fewer than 3 percent of sexual assault or rape cases result in a conviction in Pakistan, according to the Karachi-based group War Against Rape.

The last government of Prime Minister Imran Khan passed an anti-rape criminal law in parliament last year. The law will create a national sex offenders register, protect the identity of victims and set up special fast-track courts to hear rape cases and reach a verdict within four months.


Military leaders to brief lawmakers on talks with local Taliban today

Updated 7 sec ago

Military leaders to brief lawmakers on talks with local Taliban today

  • Over 100 lawmakers, officials will attend the in-camera briefing at Parliament House
  • Military officials likely to brief on negotiations with the outlawed Pakistani Taliban

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) will hold an in-camera meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss the prevailing national security issues, the lower house of Pakistan parliament said. 

The military leadership will brief lawmakers on talks with the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is a separate movement that shares common roots with the militants that took power in Afghanistan last year, local media reported. Over 100 lawmakers and officials would attend the meeting. 

The TTP, which has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since 2007, on June 4 extended a cease-fire with the government for an indefinite period, after two days of talks with a delegation of Pakistani tribal elders that were facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. 

“6th in-camera meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security will be held on Tuesday, the 5th July 2022 at 3:00 p.m. in the Chamber of National Assembly, Parliament House,” the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan parliament, said on Twitter. 

“The agenda will include the Briefing on current issues of National Security.” 

Last month, Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership after a meeting in Islamabad agreed that talks with the Pakistani Taliban were taking place within the ambit of the constitution and any decision on negotiations with the outlawed group would be taken with parliament’s approval. 

After the meeting, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would hold an in-camera briefing in parliament to inform legislators about the progress in negotiations. 

The TTP is asking Pakistan to scrap a 2018 law that did away with the semi-independent status of the former tribal regions that dates back to the British colonial rule. The law aimed to grant equal rights to millions of residents in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) once they were incorporated into Pakistan’s authority as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

The Pakistani Taliban also want Pakistani troops to pull out of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, release all TTP fighters in government custody and revoke all cases against them. 


Ex-PM Khan moves top court against law revoking voting rights of Pakistani expats

Updated 04 July 2022

Ex-PM Khan moves top court against law revoking voting rights of Pakistani expats

  • Khan enjoys widespread support among some nine million Pakistanis living abroad
  • Last November, Khan government passed a law allowing electronic vote counting

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday filed a petition in the Supreme Court against recent amendments in election laws under which the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis through internet voting have been revoked.

The Pakistani parliament on June 9 passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022, under which overseas Pakistanis cannot vote through i-voting and electronic voting machines (EVMs) will not be used in the next election, scheduled for August 2023.

“Khan, filing the petition through his lawyers, has made the federal government, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) parties in the case,” Geo News reported.

Khan urged the court to declare the amendments “unconstitutional, ultra vires and void, ab initio and to strike down the same.”

“Direct the ECP and all relevant authorities to take necessary steps to give effect to the right of overseas Pakistanis to vote in all future elections, especially the upcoming general elections from their country of residence,” the petition reads.

It also asked the court to direct the Election Commission of Pakistan to grant necessary approvals and funds to the National Database and Registration Authority to develop a new i-voting system to be used in the next general election.

“Grant a continuing mandamus and supervise the process of putting in place a system for ensuring that overseas Pakistanis are able to cast their votes in all future elections, especially the upcoming general elections, from their country of residence,” the petition reads.

Last November, while Khan was still prime minister - he was ousted in April this year in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence - Pakistan's parliament passed a law allowing electronic vote counting despite furious protests from the opposition which said it had been pushed through by the government to rig the next election.

Khan’s government had for months been trying to pass the law that allowed overseas Pakistanis to cast their ballot online.

Ex-PM Khan enjoys widespread support among some nine million Pakistanis living abroad.

Pakistan has a history of parties alleging vote rigging after every election. Khan has said he believes electronic vote counting will ensure transparency.


IMF program on track, Pakistani finance minister says, refuting media reports

Updated 04 July 2022

IMF program on track, Pakistani finance minister says, refuting media reports

  • “No truth to it,” Miftah Ismail says about reports IMF program “further postponed” over dispute on “anti-corruption regulations”
  • Pakistan last week said it had received targets from IMF that once ratified would pave way for resumption of stalled bailout scheme

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani finance minister Miftah Ismail said on Monday talks to resume an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program, suspended earlier this year, were “on track,” refuting media reports that the scheme had been postponed.

Pakistan last week said it had received economic and financial targets from the IMF that once agreed and ratified should pave the way for the lender to unlock a suspended $6 billion loan program.

Pakistan desperately needs the money to avert a balance of payment crisis that is being brought closer by the day as result of the sharp rise in global oil and commodity prices. Central bank foreign currency reserves have fallen dangerously low, and the economy is reeling from a sharp depreciation in the Pakistani rupee and double-digit inflation.

Pakistan entered the IMF program in 2019 spread over three years and three months, but with less than half the amount disbursed, the IMF suspended the bailout earlier this year after the previous prime minister, Imran Khan, announced unfunded subsidies for the oil and power sectors. Khan’s government was ousted in April.

A Pakistani news website reported on Monday the IMF program had been “further postponed and the point of dispute is the improvement of anti-corruption regulations.”

“I have been reading with some amusement all the tweets and stories about IMF program being postponed or delayed due to some anti-corruption law,” Ismail said on Twitter. “There is no truth to it. The IMF program is on track.”

 

Needing to get back in the IMF’s good graces, the new government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has removed fuel subsidies, and made adjustments in a budget presented on June 10 that aimed at reducing the government’s fiscal deficit, which was one of the IMF’s key requirements.

Delivering an update following talks between Pakistani and IMF officials, Ismail said in a tweet last week that government had received the IMF’s Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) containing economic and fiscal targets under the seventh and eighth reviews of the program.

Having the two reviews completed at the same time raises the prospect of $1.9 billion being disbursed once the IMF board gives the all clear to resume the bailout program.


With fuel prices at record highs, Pakistani carpool app registers over 7,000 user within week

Updated 04 July 2022

With fuel prices at record highs, Pakistani carpool app registers over 7,000 user within week

  • Pakistan reported 21.3 percent inflation in June, a 13-year high, following an over 90% increase in fuel rates since May
  • Founder Mughira Irfan says carpooling expected to grow as inflationary outlook remains elevated for current fiscal year

KARACHI: A Pakistani startup offering online carpool service has received an “overwhelming” response in the wake of the recent fuel price hikes in the country, its founder said on Monday, with over 7,000 users signing up for the app in a week.

Last month, Pakistan reported 21.3 percent inflation, a 13-year high, following an over 90 percent increase in fuel rates since May 26.

Statistics show the rise in transportation costs contributed 61.46 percent to the overall inflation recorded in June this year.

“In the current circumstances, carpooling with enhanced security precautions is becoming an economically viable solution to the rising fuel costs,” Mughira Irfan, who launched the DriveLu app last Monday, told Arab News. 

“We have received overwhelming response from users that include both riders and drivers,” he added. “Within a week of its official launch, the number of users of the app went beyond 7,000. This was a number we expected to achieve after a few months.”

Irfan said he had started working on the idea when he was in university and had to travel on crowded buses.

“The idea was close to my heart because I used to face this issue during my university life,” he said. “I even waited for buses for more than an hour since they were mostly overcrowded.”

He recalled coming across people who offered him a ride for a nominal price.

“I realized there was a space here and people wanted to pick you up and give you rides for money,” Irfan said.

The startup founder said his idea was to turn a car into an asset that not only provided a safe commutation solution but also became an earning tool.

“The main goal was that if a vehicle was taken to the road, it should be an asset and help generate money,” he added. “The whole purpose was to bring down a driver’s fuel cost to zero and give him the opportunity to earn some additional income.”

Asked about the security of drivers and riders, he said they were both verified through their computerized national identity cards while an additional security button was also added to the app.

“We have addressed the issue of security because we think that carpooling now needs to be trusted by more people,” Irfan said. “We have the driver’s and rider’s CNIC information which is a must for both. Also, the vehicles’ registration information is always available with us. We even take CNIC numbers from single riders since there is no compromise on it.”

He said his team was also reaching out to the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) for automation of the CNIC verification system.

“Currently we are manually doing this but our hope is that automation will reduce chances of error,” he said. “The embedded panic button in the app can also alert our monitoring team.”

The startup founder said he was planning to initially offer the service in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and their surrounding areas, adding that demand was also coming from other cities. 

As Pakistan’s inflationary outlook remains elevated for the current fiscal year, Irfan said he was hopeful the carpool idea would gain further traction. 

Pakistani startups have been on the global radar since 2021 when the country received about $365 million, accounting for over 60 percent of all deals completed by such firms within the past seven years.

The flow of funds also continued in the first two quarters of 2022, accounting for $266 million, according to Invest2Innovate and Alpha Beta Core data.


Coronavirus positivity rate rises, Pakistani officials urge caution as Eid Al-Adha nears

Updated 04 July 2022

Coronavirus positivity rate rises, Pakistani officials urge caution as Eid Al-Adha nears

  • Health minister says government “concerned” over increase in hospitalisation, positivity ratio
  • Says government mulling rolling out mass testing, particularly in major cities such as Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel on Monday expressed “concern” as Pakistan recorded 675 new coronavirus cases while the positivity ratio crossed 4.5 percent, data from the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed, urging caution ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday at the end of the week.

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

But over the past 24 hours, the national COVID positivity ratio had risen to 4.61% with 675 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of last Monday, according to NIH data. Over 163 people were reported to be in critical care.

 

 

“The government is concerned over increase in hospitalisation and positivity rate over the last few days,” the minister told reporters. “Our average deaths are between 1.5 percent and the average number of patients on ventilators is five.”

Health ministry data shows the daily positivity rate registered a sharp decline from the peak 13 percent on January 22 to 0.37 percent on April 12 but started picking up again in June.

The minister said the government feared the rate could spike further with two religious festivals, Eid al-Adha and Muharram, coming up.

However, he said hospitals had enough ventilators, and ruled out smart or localized lockdowns.

“I guess this is not the appropriate time for smart lockdown,” he said, adding that 86 percent of the eligible population above 12 years of age was partially vaccinated while the government was administering at least one million booster doses on average a day.

Since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in February 2021, Pakistan has fully vaccinated over 127 million individuals aged 12 years and above and administered 272 million doses in total so far.  More than 25.77 million people have also received a booster dose.

Talking about Karachi where the daily positivity was recorded at 20.61 percent in the last 24 hours, Patel said the provincial government had been directed to increase the number of tests to ascertain the actual spread of the virus.

“Karachi is a congested city, they need to increase testing,” the minister said, adding that instructions were issued to all provincial governments to be ready for all kinds of emergencies, including setting up of isolation centres.

Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center, its main pandemic response body, on March 31 as infections fell to the lowest level since the outbreak began in 2020.

However, the South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) last week once again made it mandatory for all passengers on domestic flights to wear masks. Authorities are also urging eligible individuals to get booster vaccine shots.

Patel on Friday called masks "essential" during the upcoming Eid holiday, appealed to religious scholars to ensure social distancing at mosques and urged the public to avoid hugging and shaking hands during Eid.

Last Thursday, Pakistan issued fresh standard operating procedures (SOPs) for government office.

The NIH in a notification urged government staffers to avoid shaking hands and mandated wearing face masks and incorporating social distancing in seating plans and during prayers.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting to take stock of the coronavirus situation, urging masses to take precautions against the infection.

“The NCOC is closely monitoring the situation and we are prepared for any scenario,” Patel said on Monday, adding that the government was mulling rolling out mass testing, particularly in major cities such as Karachi.

Public health experts have also expressed concerns over the rise in the number of daily COVID-19 infections and suggested people get booster doses.

“The daily positivity trend clearly shows this [infections] will spike again in coming weeks,” Dr Javed Akram, a member of the government’s scientific task force on COVID-19, told Arab News. “The government should strictly enforce health guidelines in all public places to check the spread of the virus.”

“Everybody should get a COVID-19 booster dose after six months of being fully vaccinated to augment the immunity,” he said. “All vaccines are safe and effective, get any one of your choice to stay safe.”

President Dr. Arif Alvi also took to Twitter on Monday and stressed the implementation of COVID prevention rules during Eid.