Pakistani news channel taken off air, put on notice for content inciting ‘revolt’ against army

A Pakistani journalist gestures during a protest against the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 21, 2014. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistani news channel taken off air, put on notice for content inciting ‘revolt’ against army

  • In news segment on Monday, hosts and Khan chief of staff discussed alleged media cell set up by ruling PMLN party to malign PTI
  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill’s comments tantamount to inciting “ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” electronic media regulator says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s electronic media regulator has issued a show-cause notice to a major private news channel, ARY News, for airing “hateful and seditious” content that the authority said amounted to inciting revolt within the armed forces, a copy of the document shows.

The show cause notice released late on Monday night came hours after officials at ARY News, and an association of Internet service providers, said the channel had been taken off air by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), soon after the channel aired a segment considered critical of the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as the top command of the Pakistan army.

ARY News is widely seen as being partial to ex-premier Imran Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, with criticism of the Sharif government’s political and economic polices a regular feature of news bulletins and current affairs shows.

On Monday, the channel aired a segment in which two hosts and chief of staff to Khan, Dr. Shehbaz Gill, alleged that Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party had activated a “strategic media cell” to malign the PTI and its chairman and build a public narrative that the party was against Pakistan’s all-powerful army. ARY had previously also made the accusations in June.

In the segment, Gill also advised army officers not to follow orders of the top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

“A beeper of Dr. Shehbaz Gill of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was included who uttered highly hateful and seditious comments which tantamount to incite ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” PEMRA said in the notice issued to the channel.

“Airing of such content on your news channel shows either weak editorial control on the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individual who intent to spread malice and hatred against the state institutions for their vested interests,” the notice read, saying this was against the country’s constitution.

The notice said the channel had also maligned the federal government by “egregiously, baselessly and categorically” claiming that it was running a malicious campaign over the tragic crash of an army aviation helicopter last week, causing agony to the families of the martyrs.

The regulator directed the chief executive officer of the channel to show cause in writing within three days explaining why legal action should not be initiated against the channel for violating the law and the constitution.

Earlier on Monday evening, officials of the channel said it had been taken off air in a number of cities.

“Just cause we reported a true story #ARYNews gets shut down,” ARY CEO Salman Iqbal said in a Twitter post.

“On the orders of PEMRA, cable operators across Pakistan have started removing ARY News from their cable network. Watch ARY News Live on Youtube,” Ammad Yousaf, senior executive vice president of ARY News, said.

ARY News was reported to still be off air in several cities of Pakistan on Tuesday morning.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) confirmed to Arab News the suspension of the channel’s transmission across Pakistan, saying it was done on the instructions of PEMRA.

“We have received verbal instructions from PEMRA about an hour ago to off air ARY News,” Wahaj Siraj, convener ISPAK and co-founder of Nayatel, a major Internet service provider, told Arab News. “No reason is given to us to off air the channel, and this is being done almost across Pakistan now.”

“We have sent emails to our customers about the development. We don’t know as to when we will be able to restore the service,” Siraj added. “If we get any revised instructions from PEMRA to restore the service on our network, we’ll be able to do it in 20 to 30 minutes.”

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment on whether the government was behind the blockade of ARY.

The development comes in the wake of an online smear campaign against the military and its officers after any army aviation helicopter carrying a senior commander and five others crashed on a mountain during a flood relief operation last Monday and all onboard were killed.

Following the incident, a social media campaign targeted the deceased officers and included hashtags against the military.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called the campaign “horrifying” and said it reflected that the minds of young Pakistanis were being poisoned. The army’s media wing has also rejected the “regretful” social media trends, saying they had caused anguish among the families of those who had died as well as in the army as an institution.

On Sunday, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it was forming a joint investigation team to probe the smear campaign.

Members of the PTI have alleged that Twitter trends and anti-army posts are being pushed by the ruling PMLN, which the party denies.

The army has not yet commented on ARY being taken off air.


In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban

Updated 7 min 51 sec ago

In Pakistan’s northwest, rise in extortion demands signals advance of Taliban

  • Arab News interviewed at least seven traders who had received extortion demands in recent months
  • Six of them said the callers identified themselves as militants belonging to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan

PESHAWAR: Soon after a grenade struck his house in Peshawar city three months ago, Ihsan Khan, a well-known trader in the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, received a phone call.

“Next time, the entire home will be blown up if you don’t pay Rs300 million ($1.2 million),” the voice on the other end said.

The menacing call was taken seriously in a northern pocket of the country where Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), insurgents, have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan in past years and where officials as well as local residents widely say they are attempting to regain a foothold.

In the next few days, Khan held a series of phone negotiations with the caller and finally negotiated the demand down through the help of intermediaries, subsequently paying a smaller sum.

Last week, Arab News interviewed at least seven traders, transporters and business people who had received demands for protection money in recent months. Six said the callers had identified themselves as militants belonging to the TTP. It was unclear how many paid up.

The increasing demands for cash have stirred fears of the comeback of insurgents to the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad and drawn-out negotiations that began last year.

On September 20, the TTP said it was not linked to the extortion demands and issued a statement calling on the public not to pay up.

“If anyone asks you ... in the name of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), please contact us so we can unmask them,” the statement said, offering a contact number.

In comments to Arab News, Abu Yasir, the head of the TTP’s grievance commission, said the group had a “clear-cut and strong stance” against extortion.

“We have neither allowed nor will we allow anyone to do so,” Yasir said. “We have stopped many. And in some cases, members of the Tehreek have also done it on an individual basis, but we have stopped them ... We have stopped our colleagues and asked others as well, when a complaint has been lodged with us.”

’TIP OF THE ICEBERG’

Attacks and threats of violence have been a part of life in northern Pakistan since at least 2010, including the attempted assassination of Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai in 2012 and an attack on an army-run school in 2014 in which at least 134 children were killed.

Though thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in militant violence in the last two decades, attacks declined in the last few years after a series of military operations that pushed most TTP insurgents in Pakistan’s northwest to find shelter in neighboring Afghanistan.

But many analysts and officials warn militants are attempting to return and are busily conducting kidnappings and extortion to stockpile cash for the fight ahead if peace talks with Islamabad fail. Their reach and their ability to carry out attacks was chillingly demonstrated earlier this month when eight people were killed in a roadside bombing that targeted an anti-Taliban village elder’s vehicle in Swat Valley, in what was the first major bombing in the area in over a decade. Taliban militants this month also kidnapped 10 employees of a telecom company and demanded Rs100 million ($418,000) for their release, according to a police report filed with the local counterterrorism department.

Concerns of a TTP resurgence have grown since August 2021, when the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul following the departure of US and other foreign forces. Pakistani officials have since variously spoken of fears of fighters from the Pakistani Taliban group, which is separate but affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, crossing over from Afghanistan and launching lethal attacks on its territory.

The Afghan Taliban have reassured their neighbor they will not allow their territory to be used by anyone planning attacks on Pakistan or any other country. Still, the TTP have managed to step up attacks in recent months and both police and government officials as well as locals report hundreds of insurgents have returned — as have demands for extortion.

Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesperson for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, said anonymous calls demanding protection money were being made both from Afghanistan and within Pakistan.

“Different people have received calls for extortion, some have registered FIRs [police reports] and others have not,” Saif told Arab News, saying the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) and police took immediate action whenever such cases were reported.

Not all calls, he said, were from TTP militants.

“Some calls are also made by criminals and extortionists,” the spokesperson said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Inspector General of Police, Moazzam Jah Ansari, CTD Chief Javed Iqbal Wazir, and spokespersons for the Pakistani foreign office and army and Afghanistan’s information ministry did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

But a Peshawar-based senior police official with direct knowledge of the issue, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the provincial police department had been registering at least four extortion cases a day in the city since July.

“This is just the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “Previously, traders, transporters and businessmen used to be the targets. Now, members of national and provincial assemblies as well as government officials are also asked to pay protection money … The situation is very bad and it’s deteriorating with each passing day.”

“Well-off people, including lawmakers, receive phone calls on a regular basis,” said another police official based in Swat valley. “Few report it and a majority of them pay the money.”

Since the start of August, Swat police have registered four cases of extortion, naming the TTP as suspects in their reports. In one such case, the Swat official said, militants were paid Rs25 million ($103,000) as protection money by a provincial lawmaker.

“Militants asked the lawmaker to remove CCTV cameras from his home before they arrived to collect the money at midnight,” the official said. “The lawmaker opted not to report the incident.”

’PREDICTABLE PHENOMENON’

Malik Imran Ishaq, president of the Industrialists’ Association Peshawar (IAP), said militancy and extortion had caused “severe damage” to the business fraternity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

In Peshawar, extortionists targeted wealthy families, he said, with residents regularly finding small bombs outside their homes or businesses.

“Many of our association’s members have received [extortion] calls and many of them have been hit, targeted by rocket launchers and hand grenades,” the industrialist said.

Police had increased patrolling in the Hayatabad industrial estate area of the city but it had not resolved the issue, Ishaq said.

“I am clueless about how this issue will be resolved,” he said, lamenting that businesses worth billions of rupees in the Hayatabad industrial estate were on the verge of closure.

“Twenty-eight of our members have shut their industrial units in Peshawar and moved to Punjab to set up factories there,” Ishaq said, blaming the move on a resurgence of militancy and a rise in Taliban demands for cash.

“There is an evident surge during the last one year, particularly the last couple of months.”

The crime wave means the government and military could face a well-armed insurgency if the TTP is able to fully return to the country’s northern belt, experts warn.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based militancy expert, said an increase in demands for protection money was a tell-tale sign that Taliban were making serious attempts to regain control in Pakistan’s northwest.

“Militants require financial support for their operations,” he said, “and in this context, the rise of extortion incidents in these areas is a predictable phenomenon.”


WHO calls for ‘full-scale’ operation’ as diseases spread in flood-hit Balochistan

Updated 29 September 2022

WHO calls for ‘full-scale’ operation’ as diseases spread in flood-hit Balochistan

  • Children and women becoming more vulnerable as tens of thousands suffer from infectious and water-borne diseases
  • Sindh and Balochistan provinces have become infested with malaria, dengue fever, diarrhoea and skin problems

ISLAMABAD: A senior official at the World Health Organization warned on Thursday a “full-scale operation” was needed in Pakistan’s flood-hit Balochistan in the aftermath of recent floods that had not only destroyed agriculture and houses but were now also causing the spread of diseases.

Children and women are becoming more vulnerable as tens of thousands of people suffer from infectious and water-borne diseases in flood-hit Pakistan and the death toll from the inundation has surpassed 1,600, a figure that does not include deaths from fast-spreading diseases, according to data from the National Disaster Management Authority.

Around 325 of the total deaths have been in Balochistan.

As flood waters begin to recede, which officials say may take two to six months, the southern Sindh and southwestern Balochistan provinces have become infested with diseases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhoea and skin problems.

"We are committed to doing everything possible to find the resources, the money, the people, the supplies. There must be going on a full-scale operation,” Executive Director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Mike Ryan, said after visiting flood-affected districts in Naseerabad Division in Balochistan

“We have no opportunity to waste, if we waste, people die; if we don't get the right focus, people will die. So we have to do many things at one time.”

Record monsoon rains in south and southwest Pakistan and glacial melt in northern areas triggered the flooding that has affected nearly 33 million people in the South Asian nation of 220 million, sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are in dire need of food, shelter, clean drinking water, toilets and medicines. Many have been sleeping in the open by the side of elevated highways.

The economic losses from the flooding will slash the country’s GDP growth to around 3 percent from the estimated target of 5 percent set out in the budget when it had narrowly escaped defaulting on its debt in a balance of payment crisis.

Pakistan was already reeling from economic blows when the floods hit, with its foreign reserves falling as low as one month’s worth of imports and its current account deficit widening.


Highlighting local cuisine, Pakistani women chefs stand out at Saudi culinary competition

Updated 42 min 48 sec ago

Highlighting local cuisine, Pakistani women chefs stand out at Saudi culinary competition

  • Kingdom Chef Competition is held under supervision of International Association of Chefs and the Saudi Chefs Association
  • Ninth edition of the tournament was held in Riyadh from September 13-16, with culinary delights prepared by over 140 global chefs

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani women chefs fared impressively at a culinary competition in Saudi Arabia held earlier this month, bagging five medals after cooking up scrumptious Pakistani dishes in Riyadh.

The Kingdom Chef Competition is an international contest that is part of the Foodex Saudi exhibition, held under the supervision of the International Association of Chefs and the Saudi Chefs Association.

The contest is open to all chefs and culinary enthusiasts, both citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia, to showcase their cooking skills.

The ninth edition of the tournament was held in Riyadh from September 13-16, providing an opportunity for visitors to experience culinary delights from more than 40 different countries prepared by over 140 global chefs.

“I am happy that I presented Pakistani cuisine in the kingdom and people liked it,” Pakistani chef Hina Shoib told Arab News over the phone from Jeddah. “I took part in two categories, meat and chicken, and won a separate bronze medal in each of them.”

Pakistani chef Hina Shoib poses with two bronze medals and a certificate at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Hina Shoib)
Pakistani chef Hina Shoib poses with two bronze medals and a certificate at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Hina Shoib)

Shoib said it was a matter of “great pride and honor” for her to stand among the best chefs in the world and that too, without proper training.

“When I told the judges that I am going to make a kebab, they were astonished that how will you do that in a 45-minute time limit from raw meat,” Shoib said. “I said I will do it and I did it.”

Shoib said she wanted to prove that nothing was difficult if one pursued it with “strong will.”

Pakistani chef Hina Shoib cooks at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Hina Shoib)

Shagufa Afshan, another Pakistani chief, bagged two bronze medals and a silver at the competition.

Speaking to Arab News, Afshan said she wanted to highlight the unique taste of Pakistani cuisine in the kingdom, where people usually have trouble separating it from Indian food.

“My main purpose is to highlight unique Pakistani cuisine because unfortunately, we are far behind Indian cuisine in Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News over the phone from Jeddah, adding that this was the second time she had won prizes at a culinary competition in Saudi Arabia.

“I won second prize at the Foodex Saudi in March 2022 held at the Jeddah exhibition center,” she said. “This time again, I won two bronze medals and one silver medal in the competition held in Riyadh this month.”

For Afshan, the competition’s ‘mystery box challenge’ was the most demanding, requiring chefs to prepare a dish from whatever ingredients came out of a box.

“You have to cook or bake it then and there in 45 minutes by utilizing those things,” she said.

In this group photo, Pakistani chef Shagufa Afshan (center) shows off her medals and prizes won at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Shagufa Afshan)
Pakistani chef Shagufa Afshan shows off her medals and certificate at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Shagufa Afshan)

Judges awarded marks based on an EAT standard (execution, appearance, and taste), Afshan said, where taste had the maximum weightage out of 100 marks.

“I am trying to get a work permit and then will start culinary classes for both men and women,” she added.

Hamzah Gilani, a spokesperson for the Pakistani consulate in Jeddah, said such cooking competitions fostered a sense of “community and camaraderie” among participants.

“It is a fun way to meet new people and make new friends,” he said. “Additionally, they help promote healthy eating habits and teach people about different cuisines from around the world.”

Judges evaluate dishes cooked by different chefs at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Hina Shoib)
Judges evaluate dishes cooked by different chefs at the Kingdom Chef Competition in Riyadh on September 16, 2022. (Supplied/Hina Shoib)

 


Pakistan national security body approves investigation into audio leaks from PM Office

Updated 28 September 2022

Pakistan national security body approves investigation into audio leaks from PM Office

  • Leaks have engulfed top officials including PM Sharif and ex-PM Khan in a fresh round of controversy
  • Interior minister Rana Sanaullah to head body to probe leaks of audio conversations from PM Office

ISLAMABAD: The National Security Committee (NSC) on Wednesday approved the constitution of a committee headed by the interior minister to investigate audio leaks from the Prime Minister’s Office that have engulfed key politicians, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and ex-premier Imran Khan, in a fresh round of controversy.

The leaks, which were released last weekend, initially involve discussions between PM Sharif and members of his cabinet, including conversations with ruling party leader Maryam Nawaz over the performance of outgoing finance minister Miftah Ismail, and with an official about the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project for Nawaz’s son-in-law.

But the controversy reached its crescendo on Wednesday with a leak featuring a conversation between Khan when he was PM and his then principal secretary Azam Khan, once again bringing into the spotlight a diplomatic cipher that is at the center of Khan’s allegations that his ouster n April this year was part of a regime change conspiracy hatched abroad.

Wednesday’s meeting of the NSC was chaired by PM Sharif and attended by cabinet members as well as military service chiefs, and other senior civil and military officials.

“The meeting approved the constitution of a high-powered committee to investigate the issue of audio leaks. Interior minister Rana Sanaullah will be the head of this committee,” a statement issued by the PM Office said.

The heads of intelligence institutions gave a detailed briefing to participants at the meeting on the security of the PM Office and other important buildings, cyberspace, and other related aspects.

“The meeting was informed that emergency measures are being taken to ensure the security of the Prime Minister House and other important places, buildings, and ministries in order to avoid any such situation in the future,” the statement added.

“The committee agreed to review the security, and safety of government communications keeping in mind the current changing environment of modern technology and cyberspace to ensure security and security systems are not breached,” the statement said.

In April, the Khan government handed an official protest to the US embassy over what it called Washington’s interference in the country’s affairs, referring to a diplomatic note from a Pakistani diplomat based on his meetings with US officials that Khan has said was evidence of a foreign conspiracy to oust him from power.

Just weeks later, Khan was removed from office in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, which he blamed, and continues to blame, on a conspiracy hatched by the United States with Khan’s rivals in Pakistan, including current PM Sharif. Both deny the charge but Khan has held rallies across the country since, sticking to the theory of a foreign conspiracy and challenging the mandate of the Sharif government.

Speaking to reporters after the latest leak, Khan did not deny the authenticity of the audio file featuring him, saying the diplomatic cipher itself should be released so the nation could see “magnitude of the conspiracy.”

The latest audio file starts midway through a purported conversation between Khan and Azam.

“Now we have to play with this [cipher],” Khan is heard saying. “Don’t take America’s name, just play with this.”

Azam then suggests that the PM call a meeting with Shah Mahmood Qureshi, then foreign minister, and the Foreign Secretary Suhail Mahmood to put on record the threat allegedly contained in the cipher.

“Qureshi would read out the letter and whatever he reads out, we will turn it into a copy. I will do that in the minutes [of the meeting] that the Foreign Secretary has told this. Then the analysis will be done here [at the PM Office],” the former principal secretary said.

“We will do analysis of minutes [of meeting] of our own choice, this way minutes would be on the records of the [PM] office. The analysis will be that [the cypher] was a threat.”

On Tuesday, PM Sharif had called the audio leaks a ‘serious security lapse’ and said it would be thoroughly investigated.


Pakistan hold nerves to pull off another last-over win against England

Updated 28 September 2022

Pakistan hold nerves to pull off another last-over win against England

  • Pakistan defeat England by 5 runs to go 3-2 up in series
  • Muhammad Rizwan scores half-century, Haris Rauf takes 2 wickets

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan defeated England in yet another close encounter on Wednesday, winning the clash by five runs to go 3-2 up in the seven-match T20 series at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore. 

Set a target of 146 runs to win the fifth T20I, the English batters couldn’t withstand the Pakistani bowling attack and as a result, lost early wickets. Pakistan’s bowlers chipped in with the wickets, with pacer Haris Rauf finishing with figures of 2/41. 

Debutant Aamer Jamal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Wasim all took a wicket each to restrict England to 139/7 at the end of 20 overs. The visitors were seven runs shy of their target. 

Moeen Ali was the only English batter who put up some resistance against the Pakistani bowling lineup, scoring an unbeaten 51 off 37 balls. His innings included six 4s and two 6s. 

Dawid Malan looked threatening as well with his 36 off 35 balls but Pakistan’s Ahmed trapped him lbw and sent him to the pavilion before he could do some more damage. 

From Pakistan, Mohammad Rizwan once again top-scored from his side with his 46-ball 63. Rizwan found little help from Babar Azam or Shan Masood, who went for 9 and 7 respectively. Haider Ali, batting in at number 4, also went cheaply for 4 runs. 

Mark Wood once again proved to be the pick of the English bowlers, finishing with figures of 3/20 while David Willey and Sam Curran ended up with figures of 2/23 and 2/23 respectively. 

Earlier, England won the toss and put Pakistan to bat. 

Pakistan brought the Karachi leg of the series to a close on Sunday when the hosts beat England in a thriller. Shan Masood’s under-arm throw from the last match prevented Reece Topley from reaching the crease and England from chasing the 167-run target. 

England, who are on their first tour of Pakistan in 17 years, will play the sixth T20 fixture against Pakistan on Friday, September 30 before the final match of the series will take place on Sunday, October 2. 

Squads:

Pakistan 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Shan Masood, 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Haider Ali, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Aamer Jamal, 10 Mohammad Wasim, 11 Haris Rauf

England 1 Phil Salt (wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali (capt), 7 Sam Curran, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 David Willey, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood