Pakistan PM meets new army chief, lauds military's professional abilities

Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir (left) meets Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad, Pakistan on November 30, 2022. (PID)
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Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan PM meets new army chief, lauds military's professional abilities

  • Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tells General Asim Munir it is a huge honor to lead the Pakistan Army
  • The PM hopes the armed forces will protect the country’s security better under its new leadership

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif praised the military’s professional abilities while holding a meeting with the new army chief Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday, saying it was a huge honor for anyone to lead the armed forces of Pakistan which were tirelessly working for the country’s security.

This was Munir’s first meeting with the prime minister after taking over the army’s command in a ceremony held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday. He replaced General Qamar Javed Bajwa who retired from the post after leading the army for six years.

“We have full confidence in the professional capabilities of the Pakistan Army,” the prime minister was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office after the meeting.

“It is a great honor to lead the Pakistan Army,” he said while addressing the top general. “It is hoped that the armed forces under your leadership will deal with the challenges facing the country’s security in a better way.”

Sharif congratulated Munir on taking charge of his new position.

He maintained the whole nation was proud of the army’s role in protecting the frontiers of the country and fighting violent extremism and militancy.

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history, either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir’s appointment coincides with a dispute between the army and former premier Imran Khan, who blames top military generals for playing a part in his ouster in a parliamentary no-trust vote earlier this year.

Khan also expressed hope earlier in the day the new military leadership would end the “prevailing trust deficit” between the army and the public.

The PM Office said in its statement Sharif’s meeting with the army chief focused on professional issues related to the country’s defense and security.

Munir also met President Arif Alvi during the day.

In a separate meeting, Alvi discussed defense related matters with the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza.

Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi (right) meets army chief Syed Asim Munir in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (PID)


Greece remands Pakistanis over alleged anti-Semitic plot — lawyer

Updated 31 March 2023

Greece remands Pakistanis over alleged anti-Semitic plot — lawyer

  • The two men admitted exchanging messages concerning a possible attack on a Jewish restaurant in Athens
  • They got instructions from a third man in Iran, though the Iranian embassy denied any connection to the plot

ATHENS: Greece on Friday remanded into custody two Pakistani suspects accused of plotting an anti-Semitic attack after they testified before a magistrate, their lawyer said.

The two men, aged 29 and 27, admitted exchanging messages concerning a possible attack on a Jewish restaurant in Athens, lawyer Iraklis Stavaris told AFP.

They are charged with participation in a terrorist organisation, a crime that carries a possible life sentence.

Stavaris on Friday said his clients had admitted exchanging Viber messages with a third man, whom police have identified as a Pakistani allegedly living in Iran.

On the third man’s instructions, Stavaris said, they scouted out and took photographs of a kosher restaurant in Athens that is also a Jewish prayer centre.

Police arrested the two Pakistanis in February for illegal entry into Greece.

Citizen’s Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos told Skai TV this week that the alleged plot targeted “locations of Jewish and Israeli interest in Athens”. Asked if the case was watertight, he replied: “absolutely”.

“Monetary gain was the apparent motive,” he told the channel.

Police said separately that the pair had “already chosen the target of the attack” and were planning how to execute it.

Following an investigation by Greek intelligence agency EYP, anti-terror police carried out raids in Athens, Sparta on the Peloponnese peninsula and on the island of Zakynthos, the minister said.

Another 10 Pakistani men questioned in connection with the case were released Thursday after no incriminating evidence was found, a police source told AFP.

No weapons have been found, according to official statements so far.

Greece was included on a list of countries with travel warnings issued by Israel’s National Security Council ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover in early April.

Israel this week accused Tehran of being behind the plot and said its Mossad intelligence agency had assisted the investigation.

“After the investigation of the suspects in Greece, the Mossad helped untangle the intelligence of the network, its operational methods and ties to Iran,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday.

“As part of the investigation, it emerged that the infrastructure in Greece was part of a broad Iranian network, operated from Iran toward many countries,” it added.

Iran’s embassy in Greece on Wednesday denied any connection to the alleged plot.

Greece’s Jewish community numbers around 5,000. The government has good relations with Israel, including a number of security and military agreements.

Greece has not been targeted by extremist attacks in recent years.

Greece’s intelligence agency EYP is seeking to regain credibility after a wiretap scandal that erupted last year.

Earlier in March, EYP hailed as a “success” the discovery of an alleged Russian spy after she had already fled the country.

The woman, who was using a fabricated Greek alias, had been in Greece since 2018.

Ramadan ration stampede claims 11 lives in Karachi, highlights Pakistan’s struggle with inflation

Updated 31 March 2023

Ramadan ration stampede claims 11 lives in Karachi, highlights Pakistan’s struggle with inflation

  • Officials say they have sealed the factory where the incident took place and arrested its management
  • Seven other people also lost their lives in recent days at free ration distribution sites in KP and Punjab

KARACHI: At least 11 people were killed and several others injured on Friday, said officials, when a stampede broke out during a free ration distribution in Karachi, Pakistan’s southern port city, amid the country’s mounting inflation crisis.
The incident took place in a factory located in the SITE industrial area where hundreds had gathered to receive wheat flour and other food items during the holy month of Ramadan.
“At least eleven people, nine of them women, were brought dead to Abbasi Shaheed and Civil hospitals,” Dr. Sumaiyya Syed, Karachi police surgeon, told Arab News.
She added that five injured people were currently being treated at the city’s two medical facilities.
Mukhtar Ali Abro, deputy commissioner of district west, said the owner of the factory had invited people to benefit from the free ration distribution, an annual activity performed by affluent individuals in Pakistan during Ramadan.
“We have sealed the factory and arrested its manager along with six other staff members,” he told Arab News. “The owner of the facility, who left this morning to perform Umrah, has also been nominated in the case.”
Abro said the factory owner had not sought permission to distribute ration among such a large number of people, which led to a high death toll.

People mourn next to the body of their family member, who was died in the stampede, at a morgue, in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 31, 2023. (AP)

Meanwhile, the top leader of the province’s ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, instructed Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah to probe the incident, said an official statement.
“The loss of precious lives in the factory incident is tragic,” Bhutto-Zardari was quoted as saying.
He also urged the authorities to ensure such incidents do not happen in the future.
In a statement, the chief minister regretted the deaths and said that people should inform the administration about ration distribution and other welfare activities to avert such incidents.
About seven people lost their lives in the last couple of weeks as families struggling with soaring costs of basic necessities thronged at free ration distribution sites in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
Pakistan is currently facing a massive economic crisis that has led to spiraling inflation in the country, resulting in an increase in the cost of basic food items.

UAE-based biotechnology firm expresses ‘keen interest’ in Pakistan’s pharmaceutical sector

Updated 31 March 2023

UAE-based biotechnology firm expresses ‘keen interest’ in Pakistan’s pharmaceutical sector

  • Chairman of Abu Dhabi-based Hayat Bio-Tech calls on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the federal capital
  • Sharif reiterates his country’s desire to expand its relations with the United Arab Emirates in diverse fields

ISLAMABAD: A delegation from the United Arab Emirates, led by the chairman of an Abu Dhabi-based biotechnology firm, called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in his office and expressed “keen interest” to invest in Pakistan’s pharmaceutical sector, said an official statement on Friday.
The UAE and Pakistan have close fraternal relations and enjoy bilateral cooperation in a range of fields.
The Gulf country is Pakistan’s third-largest trade partner after China and the United States and is also home to more than 1.6 million Pakistani nationals.
“His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook al Maktoum, the chairman of Hayat Bio-Tech and a member of the ruling family of the UAE, along with a delegation, called on Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad today,” said the statement.
Sharif welcomed the delegation and said that Pakistan attributed great significance to its relations with the UAE in diverse fields, including trade and investment.
“The prime minister welcomed the keen interest of Hayat Bio-Tech to invest in Pakistan’s pharmaceutical sector, especially in vaccine manufacturing,” said the statement, adding that the PM also invited the visiting delegation to invest in renewable energy while assuring them that foreign investors would get all possible facilitation.
Sheikh al Maktoum said his country was aware of Pakistan’s huge investment potential and was looking forward to further expanding its footprint in the energy and health sectors.
The visiting dignitary added the UAE wanted to further increase its investment portfolio in Pakistan while briefing the prime minister about his country’s ongoing 1,200-megawatt solar and wind energy project which it is undertaking in collaboration with the provincial administration of Sindh.
Aside from investing in Pakistan, the UAE has also assisted the country financially by depositing money in the State Bank.
Earlier this week, the top UAE diplomat in Pakistan, Hamad Obaid Ibrahim Salim Al-Zaabi, also held a meeting with the country’s finance minister, Muhammad Ishaq Dar, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pushed the South Asian nation to get external financing commitments from friendly nations before releasing its bailout funds.

Pakistan currency dealers offer $24 billion loan to government as alternative to IMF bailout

Updated 31 March 2023

Pakistan currency dealers offer $24 billion loan to government as alternative to IMF bailout

  • Local dealers say financing will be arranged through currency swap agreements with local and overseas Pakistanis
  • Economists say the proposed plan is not sustainable and may put the country back on FATF’s radar screen

KARACHI: As an alternative to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) bailout program, Pakistani currency dealers have offered to arrange about $24 billion to shore up the country’s foreign exchange reserves for the next two years “in the larger interest of the country,” an official said on Friday.
Cash-strapped Pakistan is currently in talks with the IMF for the completion of the ninth review of the $7 billion bailout program signed in 2019. However, no progress has been made until now to reach a staff-level agreement, even as the government has implemented several harsh conditions to fulfill the lender’s requirements.
Pakistan desperately awaits the disbursement of $1.2 billion from the IMF under the loan program since it would boost the country’s low foreign exchange reserves which currently stand at $4.2 billion, barely enough to cover one month of imports.
The country’s currency dealers have offered to arrange the much-needed dollars in this context through a swap agreement with overseas and local Pakistanis to steer the economy out of the current crisis.
“We offered the government six months back to arrange $24-25 billion through outright purchases from Pakistanis at least for two years,” Malik Bostan, president of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP), told Arab News on Friday.
Bostan said he repeated the offer during a recent meeting with the members of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance in Islamabad.
“The companies have offered to arrange funds of $1 billion per month for the government so that the country can get rid of the IMF program,” he said, adding that the exchange companies were already contributing $400 million per month to the interbank market.
Asked to further elaborate the plan, the ECAP president said currency dealers would approach overseas and local Pakistanis and offer currency swap agreement for the well-being of the country.
“Under the agreement, we will take loans for a certain agreed period and offer them the current exchange rate,” he explained. “They will benefit from the exchange rate fluctuations, and appreciation at the end of the contract term.”
Bostan said the idea to raise dollars for Pakistan was not new as a similar approach was adopted back in 1998 through which $10 billion were raised with the permission of then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and central bank governor, Muhammad Yaqub.
“We had toured Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, and approached Pakistanis, and they had responded well,” he continued. “The country is still reaping the benefit of 1998 fundraising.”
The ECAP official said the exchange companies needed the government’s approval to implement the proposed financing arrangement which required direct dollar purchases from abroad and people at home.
While Bostan said the government’s nod will allow the country to get the much-needed funds, Pakistani economists termed the idea “unsustainable” and risky which could put the country back on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) radar.
“The financing solution proposed by the exchange companies may provide short-term relief, but it is not a long-term solution and there is a risk of putting the country back on the FATF watch list,” Dr. Sajid Amin, deputy executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News. “The government must stick to the IMF program and complete the reforms that the country needs for its long-term survival.”
Amin said the current IMF program seemed “tough” but it was because the authorities had failed to implement structural reforms which were mutually agreed with the fund.
“We have been playing politics with the IMF program which has delayed the implementation of prior actions,” he continued.
Amin added the conditions seemed tough because of the implementation timeframe which was short.
Pakistan has approached the IMF 23 times in its history to get bailout programs but has only completed one of them.

Political crisis deepens as CJ refuses to form full court in election postponement case

Updated 31 March 2023

Political crisis deepens as CJ refuses to form full court in election postponement case

  • Chief justice says the Supreme Court will take a break if political parties begin to negotiate and settle the matter
  • Legal experts say CJ’s leadership capability has come under question after the recusal of two judges hearing the case

ISLAMABAD: The ongoing tussle between the government and judiciary intensified in Pakistan on Friday after a three-member bench resumed hearing a petition filed by former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party against the election postponement in Punjab province, while refusing to form a full court to adjudicate the matter.
The country’s election commission announced the postponement of the Punjab polls this month, citing security, administrative, and financial reasons, after the province’s legislative assembly was dissolved by Khan’s party in January to force the incumbent administration to hold early general elections in the country. The PTI filed the petition against the commission’s decision since Pakistan’s constitution requires that elections must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly.
The Supreme Court’s proceedings were delayed on Friday after two senior judges, Justice Jamal Mandokhail and Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, parted ways from the five-member bench that originally took up the PTI petition. The development followed the approval of a bill by the upper house of parliament on Thursday to curtail the chief justice’s power to use “suo motu” authority, which allows the court to open cases on its own to address issues that it deems to be of public interest.
The government, which recently presented a National Assembly resolution demanding an end to the top court’s “interference” in political matters, requested a full court hearing, although the chief justice said it would waste time since the bench had already heard the case for three consecutive days.
“It will take time for the new judges to understand the case,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked.
He said that the court was willing to “take a break” if the government and the opposition PTI party started negotiating over the election date. However, he also warned that the court would play its constitutional role if the political parties failed to make headway.
Giving reasons for a delay in the elections beyond 90 days, Attorney-General of Pakistan Mansoor Awan told the court that the country was running a deficit of Rs1,500 billion, which was expected to rise further until June.
The Supreme Court summoned defense and finance secretaries on Monday to get input on the security personnel and funds needed to hold the elections. The chief justice also hoped that next week’s sun would rise “with good news.”
Meanwhile, legal experts said the recent legislation to curtail the chief justice’s power would ultimately land in the courts for judicial review while commenting on the ongoing tussle between the government and judiciary.
“The fact that a law will also address some concerns raised by certain political parties is not a good enough reason to be suspicious about its constitutionality,” advocate Waqqas Mir said while speaking to Arab News.
“I feel the proposed law will force the Supreme Court to have an urgent conversation within its members about whether they want the important issues [relating to suo motu and constitution of benches] to be addressed by politicians or by themselves,” he added.
Mir said the recusals of the judges were not happening because they wanted the elections to be delayed but “the clearly stated reason for recusals is reasoned disagreements by judges about the exercise of discretion to form benches and exercise of powers under Article 184(3) of the constitution.”
“Disagreements over ideas, interpretations, and principled positions are not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “As long as personal collegiality remains between judges, the institution should come out stronger.”
However, advocate Imran Shafique said the recusal of the judges in the elections delay case was a manifestation of a “full-blown crisis and unrest” in the Supreme Court, which would weaken the institution in the longer run.
“Unfortunately, the leadership capability of the chief justice has been questioned as he has failed to take all the judges along in dispensation of justice,” he told Arab News.
Asked about the legislation related to the chief justice’s powers, Shafique said it would help abolish the “dictatorship role” of the top judge at the Supreme Court.
“After the implementation of the legislation, the institution will be making decisions instead of an individual, which is a good thing to happen,” he added.