Pakistan’s election body refuses to delay local government polls in Karachi, Hyderabad again

In this file photo taken on April 27, 2013, Pakistani commuters ride past political party flags during the election campaign in Karachi. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 14 January 2023
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Pakistan’s election body refuses to delay local government polls in Karachi, Hyderabad again

  • The provincial administration of Sindh had repeated its request today to postponed the polls for security reasons
  • The provincial government mentioned threats to politicians, saying the army could not provide troops for deployment

KARACHI: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday rejected yet another request by the Sindh administration to delay polls in Karachi and Hyderabad, saying the local government elections would be held on January 15.

Earlier in the day, the provincial authorities had urged the country’s top election body to reconsider its decision to hold the electoral contest on schedule while citing security reasons and threats to leaders and workers and workers of political parties.

“After deliberating on the letter [sent by the Sindh government], the election commission has decided the local government elections in the second phase will be held tomorrow, January 15,” said an ECP spokesperson. “Moreover, the election commission has directed the provincial government to make foolproof arrangements to ensure peaceful elections.”

Reacting to the development, provincial information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said the Sindh government would comply with the ECP decision.

“We are bound to hold the elections despite our reservations,” he maintained while pointing out the security threat to politicians was still there.

The ECP rejected a similar request from Sindh on Friday after the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said one of its coalition partners in the federal government, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), was not satisfied with the delimitation of local constituencies.

Officials in the southern province also noted the army was not in a position to provide enough soldiers for “static deployment” to ensure the security of all sensitive polling stations.

The Sindh local government department wrote a letter to the ECP on Saturday morning wherein it mentioned a meeting held at the office of provincial chief secretary a day before.

“In this meeting, the law enforcement & intelligence agencies apprised the participants of the precarious law and order situation along with specific threats to various political leaders and workers of political parties,” it said. “The said meeting further corroborated the fear and apprehension of the Government that due to the prevalent situation, there is a greater need for the presence of troops of Pakistan Army and Civil Armed Forces to be statically deployed at the polling stations.”

“In light of the above,” the letter continued, “the Government of Sindh reiterates the request that the 2nd Phase of Local Government Elections to the extent of Karachi Division & Hyderabad District be postponed till such time that the required security is available at the polling stations.”

Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah also expressed concern over the emerging situation in Sindh on Saturday.

“Two political parties are in favor of holding local government elections on January 15 and two are against it,” he said. “Under the circumstances, there is a fear of conflict over the elections in Karachi and Hyderabad since miscreants can benefit from the situation.”

He added that political parties and other stakeholders should try to defuse the atmosphere of tension.

“The election commission and the judiciary should take notice of the seriousness of the situation and find appropriate solution within the legal and constitutional ambit,” he continued.

Speaking to the media at his office, provincial election commissioner in Sindh, Ejaz Anwar Chauhan, said the inspector general (IG) of police had assured to provide foolproof security to sensitive polling stations.

“We had asked the IG Sindh to assess sensitive polling stations and provide the required security,” he told media and requested all relevant state institutions to fulfil their responsibility to hold free and fair elections.

Chauhan added all polling material would reach polling stations by the Saturday evening.

Pakistan’s local media widely reported the MQM-P was interested in the postponement of local government polls and was even willing to leave the ruling coalition at the federal level.

If the party abandons the government, it will become increasingly difficult for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his administration to survive in power.


Islamic Development Bank announces $100 million loan to make Pakistan polio-free

Updated 05 December 2023
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Islamic Development Bank announces $100 million loan to make Pakistan polio-free

  • The South Asian country has already received $60 of this amount, the IsDB president says
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan are only two countries in world where polio continues to threaten lives

ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has announced a $100 million loan to support Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts, the Pakistani health minister and the Bank said, on the sidelines of the ongoing COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai. 

This loan builds on a previous support from the IsDB and includes a $35 million principal buydown from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to an IsDB statement.  

The new funding complements previous loans and will be used to secure and deliver millions of polio vaccines needed to protect all children across Pakistan against the debilitating yet preventable virus. 

"I am very pleased to announce that the IsDB approved US$100 million financing in the 4th Phase of Polio Eradication Program for Pakistan in April 2023, which brings the IsDB total financing for Polio eradication in Pakistan to US$ 587 million, making the Bank one of the largest providers of finance to the national polio eradication program in Pakistan," IsDB President Dr. Muhammad Al-Jasser was quoted as saying in the statement.  

"Under this latest phase, I am happy to note that US$60 million of this amount was disbursed in mid-November 2023. We and our partners remain committed and are working hard to win this battle against this disease. We really are at the last mile in this long journey as only 5 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in the country in 2023.”  

The IsDB president thanked the Pakistani government, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for their steadfast commitment to polio eradication. 

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of ten years. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death.  

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children.  

“We welcome the support of the IsDB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in contributing to the critical effort of ending polio in Pakistan,” Pakistan Health Minister Nadeem Jan said, addressing the ‘Reaching the Last Mile’ forum related to polio at COP28. 

“Interrupting poliovirus transmission remains a core focus for the Government of Pakistan, and thanks to the heroic efforts of community health workers, global partners and contributors like the IsDB and the foundation, we have pushed the virus to the brink of eradication.” 

An official of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said they saw this loan as an important step forward for the eradication of polio in Pakistan.  

“We are pleased to partner again with the IsDB and the Government of Pakistan to ensure funding opportunities to provide the needed resources to reach every child with polio vaccines,” said Chris Elias, president of the Global Development Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  

“With continued support to health workers and the efforts from partners like the IsDB, I am confident we will end polio in Pakistan.” 

The IsDB said this new loan would enable Pakistan's polio program to reach all children and communities with the life-saving vaccine.  

"It will also help meet the country’s commitment of US$155 million towards its national polio program supported by the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)," it added. 


Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

Updated 05 December 2023
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Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

  • Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is serving an 86-year sentence at a US federal prison
  • Her lawyer says she has been abused 'countless times' by guards and prisoners at US detention facility

ISLAMABAD: Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who has been jailed in the United States (US) after being convicted of attacking US troops in Afghanistan, has been "raped" inside a US prison, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is currently serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Carswell, Texas after a New York court convicted her in 2010 of attempting to shoot and kill a group of US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan who wanted to interrogate her for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.  

Her sentencing by a US court has riled many in Pakistan, including former and current Pakistani governments that had campaigned for her release and paid for her legal defense.  

Siddiqui's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, on Tuesday made shocking disclosures about mistreatment of Siddiqui, a day after his meeting with the Pakistani scientist at FMC Carswell. 

"She has been raped in FMC Carswell, no question about it," Smith, a US-based human rights lawyer who is representing Siddiqui, said in an interview to a Pakistani broadcaster. 

"Well, I mean, at least two times is a formal thing by guards, but in terms of abuse by the guards and prisoners, countless times." 

As an American, Smith said, he was "ashamed of" what the US prison system had done to Siddiqui. 

"I have filed a report on her abuse and what they have been doing to her is pretty unspeakable in terms of the sexual mistreatment," he said. "She has told me in great detail about how she has been abused." 

Smith said Siddiqui's complaints were all "extreme" and "true," and that she had been meted out the "harshest" treatment by the US prison authorities. 

"There are 10,250 women in the [US] federal prison system," the lawyer said. "The woman who has been treated the harshest of all those 10,250 is Aafia Siddiqui." 

Siddiqui, who is reportedly ailing, earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced for assaulting US soldiers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier.  

Her punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.  

In the years since, Pakistani officials have publicly expressed interest in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from US custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters.  

The government of Nawaz Sharif, three-time former prime minister of Pakistan, as well as the outgoing Pakistani administration of his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, have made efforts for Siddiqui’s release during their tenure.  

In March this year, the younger Sharif instructed Pakistan’s foreign ministry to remain engaged with the US government and the country’s mission in Washington for the release of jailed Pakistani neuroscientist, following his meeting with Siddiqui's sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui. 

Smith said he had apprised the Pakistani government of Siddiqui's abuse and was certainly going to let Pakistani authorities know of the "gruesome details." 

He, however, said it was the duty of the Pakistani government to protect her from the abuse. 

"That's her government, it is their duty to protect her," he said. "I will do what I can, I am an American, I apologize for what has happened to her. But it is actually, ultimately the job of the government in Pakistan." 


AirBus A320 acquired for $13 million by PIA from Indonesia to fly to Pakistan today

Updated 05 December 2023
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AirBus A320 acquired for $13 million by PIA from Indonesia to fly to Pakistan today

  • The purchase by the loss-making airline is part of $26 million two-plane deal
  • PIA has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears

KARACHI: An Airbus A320 acquired by Pakistan International Airline (PIA) for $13 million from Indonesia will land in Karachi on Tuesday night, a spokesperson for the airline said.

Loss-making PIA has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears. The government announced in August it would privatize the airline, a move that would be in line with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

PIA leased two Airbus A320 planes from leasing company AirAsia in 2012. The lease concluded in September 2021, after which PIA returned the aircraft to the leasing company. However, a dispute arose when AirAsia declined to accept the planes, contending they were not returned in satisfactory condition.

The row continued for nearly two years and the airline finally struck a deal with the leasing company to buy the two planes after a PIA delegation met with AirAsia officials in Jakarta in October.

“PIA has acquired these aircraft, which were earlier sent to Jakarta for return to the leasing company, AirAsia, upon the completion of a six-year lease,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told Arab News.

“The lessor agreed to PIA's proposal of buying out these aircraft at the price of $26 million.”

PIA made a payment of $13 million last week, the spokesman said, after which one aircraft was released and flying to Pakistan today, Tuesday. 

“One aircraft will land at Karachi airport today at 11pm, while the second one will be acquired after paying the remaining $13 million within the next couple of weeks,” Khan added.

The purchase comes at a time of deep crisis for the loss-making airline, which the government says it can no longer fund. PIA has also been in disputes with the Pakistan State Oil company (PSO) over payments.

The airline has long been in trouble. 

PIA flights to Europe and the UK have been suspended since 2020 after the European Union's Aviation Safety Agency revoked the national carrier's authorization to fly to the bloc following a scandal over pilot licences.


Pakistan to play ‘aggressive’ cricket on Australia Test tour — skipper

Updated 05 December 2023
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Pakistan to play ‘aggressive’ cricket on Australia Test tour — skipper

  • Pakistan will play first Test against Australia in Perth on Dec. 14, followed by two others in Melbourne and Sydney
  • Ahead of the first Test match, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval in Canberra

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will try playing an ‘aggressive’ cricket in their three-match Test series against Australia, skipper Shan Masood said on Monday.

Pakistan will play the first Test against Australia in Perth on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

The third Test will be played in Sydney and begin on January 3. 

Masood, who was recently appointed Pakistan Test captain, said Test cricket had undergone a significant change over the years. 

“We will try playing with a positive mindset, an aggressive mindset,” he told reporters in Canberra. 

“Wherever an opportunity came to put the other side under pressure, we will try to put pressure as a bowling unit or a bowling unit.” 

Ahead of the Test series, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval. 

Masood believed time factor was quite important for his side the games against Australia. 

“As a batting unit, you will have to improve the run rate a bit,” he said, adding Pakistan pacers will also have to strive to bowl as many players out as they can. 

PAKISTAN SQUAD

Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jr., Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi 


Pakistani power distributors overcharged around 13 million consumers in July, August — report

Updated 05 December 2023
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Pakistani power distributors overcharged around 13 million consumers in July, August — report

  • Report reveals power consumers were charged beyond the mandated 30-day billing period in violation of rules
  • Regulator gives all power distribution companies 30 days to replace all faulty meters and rectify overcharged bills

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani power distribution companies overcharged some 13 million electricity consumers across the country in July and August this year through inflated bills beyond the mandated 30-day billing period, the national electric power regulator said on Monday. 

The revelation was made in a 14-page inquiry report conducted by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), following complaints by the public regarding excessive billing by power distribution companies (discos). 

The report comes months after nationwide protests hit the South Asian country, with thousands protesting inflated electricity bills and demanding an inquiry into the billing process as well as ensuring transparency in it. 

The power regulator has constituted a four-member committee to look into the matter and present its recommendations to fix the issue. 

“There is [not a] single disco in the country who is charging bills in 100 percent correct manner, which is serious matter of concern at present,” NEPRA concluded in its report released on Monday. 

“The distribution companies are charging excessive bills to consumers by adopting illegal and unlawful practices, therefore, prima facie, are in violation of the Nepra Act, Consumer Service Manual, terms and conditions of tariff and other applicable documents.” 

The inquiry report revealed the billing cycles carried out by distribution companies ranged from above 30 days to 40 days and even more. As per the notified tariff terms and conditions, the billing period means a billing month of 30 days or less reckoned from the date of last meter reading. 

“It is alarmingly noted that thousands of consumers were charged for more than 40 days billing,” NEPRA said in its report, adding this was a “major cause” of overbilling during the months of July and August this year. 

There are eleven power distribution companies across Pakistan, including K-Electric for Karachi, with millions of consumers. The inquiry report revealed that 13.76 million people were charged for more than 30 days of electricity usage, while 0.4 million were sent average bills due to faulty electricity meters. 

NEPRA has decided to initiate legal action against all the power distribution companies in light of the inquiry report. 

“The regulator has given thirty days to all the distribution companies to replace the faulty meters and fix the overcharged bills,” Masroor Ahmad Khan, a NEPRA spokesperson, told Arab News. 

“Otherwise, strict legal action will be initiated against those failing to comply the directive.”