Pakistan national security council meets amid deepening political, economic turmoil

This file photo, taken on December 30, 2022, shows Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairing the National Security Committee meeting in Islamabad. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/CMShehbaz/File)
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Updated 07 April 2023
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Pakistan national security council meets amid deepening political, economic turmoil

  • Media widely reports meeting convened to seek support, particularly of top military leaders, to delay provincial polls
  • Meeting comes amid deepening political and economic instability, power struggle between government and top court

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) today, Friday, amid deepening political and economic instability and a power struggle between the government and the higher judiciary.

The top court had on Tuesday ruled illegal the election commission’s move to delay snap polls in two provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where former prime minister Imran Khan and his allies had dissolved provincial legislative governments in January in a bid to force early general elections since Pakista historically holds provincial and national elections together. The coalition government led by PM Sharif is reluctant to hold the votes now, citing an economic crisis and rising militant attacks.

On Thursday, political tensions mounted as Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar reiterated that general elections should be held across the country on the same date, while Pakistan’s parliament adopted a resolution with majority rejecting the Supreme Court order to hold provincial snap polls.

Against this background, Sharif has called a meeting of his top civilian and military leaders that Pakistani media widely said was being held to seek support, particularly from top military leaders, for a delay in provincial polls.

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has summoned a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday in an apparent bid to seek the support of the military leadership for a delay in polls on the pretext of security concerns,” Dawn newspaper, Pakistan’s top English language daily, reported.

A major news channel, ARY, said the “huddle would be briefed on the recent terror wave in Pakistan.”

“The meeting will be briefed on national security by the heads of sensitive institutions,” Samaa reported.

Pakistan’s army, which has ruled the country for almost half its history, retains an outsized role in politics even when it is not in power. The army chief is arguably the most powerful man in the country and successive governments have looked for his support and approval during times of political and economic crisis.

Prime Minister Sharif’s government has been saying the country’s poor economic condition didn’t allow spending on provincial snap polls and then on a general elections due later this year.

Meanwhile, the government and judiciary have been at odds over cases related to political-wrangling, and parliament last week introduced a draft law to clip the chief justice’s powers.

“It is now clear what PDM [ruling coalition] wants — any which way to get out of elections,” Khan said on Twitter on Thursday. “They brought in an unconstitutional bill on SC & an NA resolution against Judiciary. Now tomorrow an NSC mtg called to try & use security as pretext for postponement of elections. This will pit armed forces directly against not just judiciary but also the nation.”

 


Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and requires every Muslim to undertake the journey at least once
  • Around 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of the next month’s pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Tuesday met with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah and commended the innovative reforms implemented by the Saudi authorities to facilitate Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affair ministry said.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after Pakistan kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operation.
Hussain arrived in Saudi Arabia last week to review Pakistan’s arrangements for Hajj pilgrims and has since toured various departments as well as met with Saudi authorities.
“Hussain appreciated the innovative and exemplary reforms of the Saudi authorities for the facilitation of Hajj pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from across the globe,” Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The two figures had a detailed discussion regarding bilateral relations and arrangements for Hajj 2024, according to the statement. Hussain lauded the Kingdom for extending the best facilities and excellent support to the pilgrims.
He described the progress on new Pakistan Houses, which house the country’s Hajj missions, in Makkah and Madinah as “positive.”
“Saudi companies responsible for providing services under the leadership of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a good job,” Hussain was quoted as saying in the statement.
Hussain also discussed the matter of pending transport contracts for 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators, to which the Saudi minister assured him the matter would be resolved within the next few days.
“Pakistan’s Hajj group operators should reform and follow Saudi directives,” Hussain urged, saying his ministry would take action if pilgrims faced inconvenience due to private operators.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

Updated 21 May 2024
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Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

  • Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches
  • A four-match T20 series against Pakistan, whom they defeated in T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday

LONDON: Jos Buttler wants his England team to show they are still a force to be reckoned with at the T20 World Cup after last year’s shambolic 50-over title defense left them with “dented” pride.
Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches to exit with a whimper.
A four-match Twenty20 series against Pakistan, the team they defeated in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday.
Both teams will then travel to the tournament in the West Indies and United States.
Reflecting Tuesday on the impact of their poor showing in India, England captain Buttler said: “The pride was obviously dented and it was a really disappointing competition.
“But life moves on, it’s a chapter in the book and there’s lessons you learn but we’re presented with a new opportunity now, in a different format.
“We go to the West Indies and want to give a better account of ourselves. It’s a real honor to go to another World Cup as defending champions again but it also feels like a new time.”
Buttler was a key voice in England’s decision to pull all of their squad members back from the Indian Premier League to prepare as a collective.
The hard-hitting batsman said the IPL should not clash with international cricket.
“As England captain, my main priority is to be playing for England,” he said. “It’s really important for us to spend this time together.
“Leading into a World Cup, your number one is performing for England and it feels like this is the best preparation.
“But it’s my personal opinion there shouldn’t be any international cricket that clashes with the IPL — these games have been in the calendar a long time.”
Two of England’s 15-man squad are unavailable for the opening fixture in Leeds, with Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood both working through knee problems.
Paceman Jofra Archer will make his first England appearance for 14 months but Buttler said it was important not to expect too much from a bowler who has been plagued by injuries.
“We all know what a superstar he has been, but let’s manage those expectations,” he said. “Don’t expect too much, too soon.
“A great success would be him coming through this series with a big smile on his face and his body holding up.”
There are questions over Buttler’s own availability in the coming days, with his wife Louise expecting the couple’s third child.
The vastly experienced Moeen Ali stands by to take the reins if required.
“My family comes first. I’ll be at the birth,” Buttler said. “I don’t think they quite tell you when they’re going to come, but we’ve got a plan in place and fingers crossed everything will go well.”
England launch the defense of their T20 World Cup crown on June 4 against Scotland in Barbados.


Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Updated 21 May 2024
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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.


Two more flights bring over 300 Pakistanis home from Bishkek days after mob attacks

Updated 21 May 2024
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Two more flights bring over 300 Pakistanis home from Bishkek days after mob attacks

  • Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities, lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week
  • Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and over 1,000 Pakistani students have returned home

ISLAMABAD: More than 300 Pakistanis returned home on Tuesday from Bishkek via two Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights, the PIA said, days after mob attacks on foreign students in the Kyrgyz capital.
Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek on May 17 after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media. The attacks raised concerns about safety of students from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other countries.
Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 1,000 Pakistani students have returned home via different flights. According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.
On Tuesday, a group of 167 students arrived in Islamabad from Bishkek via a PIA flight, while another flight carrying 169 students landed in the eastern city of Lahore where they were received by PIA Deputy General Manager Athar Hassan and Station Manager Ashfaq Awan, according to the PIA.
“The national airline always stands by its compatriots in times of trouble,” a PIA spokesperson said in a statement. “Additional flights will also be operated as per government guidelines and as per requirement.”
The development came a day after Pakistan Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar met Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev in Astana, Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers.
Dar told his Kyrgyz counterpart that Pakistan’s main concern was the well-being of its nationals, especially the students who were primarily affected by last week’s violence, according to Pakistani state media.
Kulubaev said the Kyrgyz government had taken swift action to restore law and order in the country, and the perpetrators of the mob riots would be punished under the Kyrgyz law.


Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply agreement between Saudi Aramco, GO Petroleum

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply agreement between Saudi Aramco, GO Petroleum

  • Under the agreement, Aramco will meet GO Petroleum’s petrol, diesel demand for its outlets in Pakistan
  • Pakistan last month approved the Saudi oil giant’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in GO Petroleum

KARACHI: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has granted a time-bound exemption on relevant clauses of a product supply agreement between Saudi oil giant Aramco and Gas & Oil Pakistan Ltd. (GO Petroleum) for the import and sale of petrol and diesel products to Pakistan, the CCP said on Tuesday.
Aramco Trading Company (ATC) Fujairah FZE Ltd. is one of the world’s largest integrated energy and chemicals companies, while GO Petroleum is an oil-marketing company (OMC) registered in Pakistan that operates a network of retail outlets across the country that sell petrol, diesel and lubricants.
Under the agreement, ATC Fujairah intends to meet GO Petroleum’s demand for essential petroleum products for its outlets, which primarily includes petrol and diesel.
“The parties submitted to the CCP that this arrangement is expected to achieve economies of scale in procurement for GO Petroleum, potentially resulting in better prices for Pakistani consumers,” the CCP said in a statement.
“The exemption sought was on exclusivity aspects of the commercial agreement to supply 100 percent demand of imported products for GO Petroleum’s retail outlets. The CCP has accordingly granted exemption on the product supply agreement with certain conditions included therein.”
The CCP grants exemptions pursuant to Section 9 of the Competition Act, 2010, ensuring that such exemptions have economic benefits that outweigh anti-competitive effects.
“The CCP’s conditions stipulate that both parties must refrain from engaging in anti-competitive activities. Importantly, the exemption does not include approval on any pricing terms and mechanisms related to the products,” the CCP statement read.
“Additionally, as the agreement has referred to certain off specification products, however approval of concerned sector regulator should be ensured for import and sales. The applicants have also been directed to ensure required approvals on their terminals and storage facilities by relevant authorities to be used in the execution of this agreement.”
Subject to the conditions, the CCP said, it had granted the exemption until June 2026 and both applicants could approach it for an extension with required details and also identifying the benefits that have accrued to the improved distribution network of petroleum products and enhanced competition in the market.
Last month, the CCP approved Saudi oil giant Aramco’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in Go Petroleum, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuels retail market.
The CCP said it had authorized the merger after determining the acquisition would not result in the acquirers’ “dominance” in the relevant market post-transaction. The acquisition would help bring much-needed foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, contributing to economic growth and development of the country, it added.
In February 2019, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia inked investment deals totaling $21 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. The agreements included about $10 billion for an Aramco oil refinery and $1 billion for a petrochemical complex at the strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan.
Both countries have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the Kingdom recently reaffirmed its commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.