Pakistan to repatriate ‘illegal’ Afghan immigrants in bid to curb smuggling — PM Kakar

Afghans cross into Pakistan while a security personnel stands guard at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham on September 15, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 15 September 2023
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Pakistan to repatriate ‘illegal’ Afghan immigrants in bid to curb smuggling — PM Kakar

  • The development comes as Pakistan continues to face an economic slowdown for the last one year 
  • The South Asian country is taking desperate measures to avoid losses of precious foreign exchange 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, said on Friday his country would return all “illegal” Afghan immigrants to curb smuggling of goods and foreign currency, in an attempt to strengthen the dwindling South Asian economy. 

The development comes as Pakistan continues to face an economic slowdown for the last one year, with its foreign exchange reserves depleting, currency devaluing sharply and inflation rising to record highs. 

The country, which barely averted a default in June by securing a crucial $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, is desperately trying to curb power theft, smuggling and black-marketing of commodities to save precious foreign exchange. 

On Friday, PM Kakar presided over a meeting in Islamabad to review progress on the government’s plan to crackdown on those involved in these illegal practices, particularly the smuggling of currency and goods. 

“To prevent it, a very effective policy has been agreed upon. It has three categories, one [is relating to] those refugees who are registered and are our obligation under the international conventions and we will fulfill them at any cost. Second are the aliens who have no basis to stay here. Neither they have come on a visa, nor they have any legal documents,” Kakar told reporters after the meeting. 

“The third category includes the ones who fall under the domain of identity theft who have gotten identity card by breaking into our system and other documents, which they were not legally entitled to. We have made a policy keeping these three categories in view and God willing, you will see it very soon that we will push back aliens because they have no right to stay on our soil.” 

Pakistan first opened its borders to Afghan refugees in the 1980s after the beginning of a US-sponsored and Pakistan-backed ‘Afghan jihad’ to counter the so-called expansionist designs of the former Soviet Union, becoming the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. 

According to the UNHCR, more than 4.4 million Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland since 2002 under a UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation program, but around 1.4 million still live in refugee camps, villages and urban centers across Pakistan. 

In the last few days, police in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi arrested hundreds of Afghan nationals for allegedly residing unlawfully in the country. But a senior diplomat from Afghanistan and a human rights activist said that many of those apprehended possessed valid documents. 

PM Kakar explained that today’s meeting was held to monitor what had happened in the past week with regard to synchronizing all actions against smuggling, hoarding and power theft, and how could they take forward this strategy. 

He said his government had “zero tolerance” for smuggled goods. 

“And an illegal industry of currency, our crackdown on that will be very consistent and this message should be conveyed repeatedly,” he said. “Whoever made investments in this illegal arena, I believe they will have to suffer huge losses.” 

Asked about any relief to power consumers, the prime minister said it was linked with prices in the international market and beyond his government’s control. 

“Things connected with the international market, that is a phenomenon which different states do not have any control over,” he said. “And we are also part of that global arrangement.” 

Pakistan recently hiked fuel and electricity prices that sparked massive protests in the South Asian country, where people have been troubled by double-digit inflation for months. The hikes came as part of the conditions agreed with the IMF for the $3 billion bailout deal. 


Pakistan calls for Israeli occupation end, settlement reversal at International Court of Justice

Updated 9 sec ago
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Pakistan calls for Israeli occupation end, settlement reversal at International Court of Justice

  • The country’s interim law minister tells the court Israel is seeking annexation of Palestinian lands through military action
  • He recalls how France withdrew a million settlers from Alegria in 1962 who were more numerous and better established

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories on Friday at the advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in which several other states have also participated in recent days.
The country’s legal position over the issue was presented by its interim law minister, Ahmed Irfan Aslam, who said the ICJ proceedings inspired hope since it provided the world the opportunity to develop jurisprudence and to advance essential principles of international law that preserved and upheld basic human dignity.
The Pakistani minister noted it had been the United Nations stated position not to condone legal changes to a territory as a result of military action. He reminded the court the UN had also asked Israel to withdraw its forces from from all the territories it had invaded in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War.
However, he maintained Israel’s policy was not just to occupy but annex the Palestinian lands.
“Israel’s occupation is no longer, if it ever was, the military occupation. It is annexation,” the minister said.
“This may have been the intention all along,” he continued. “[Israel’s first] Prime Minister [David] Ben Gurion affirmed in 1950 that ‘the Israeli empire must comprise all the territories between the Nile and the Euphrates.’ And this was to be achieved as much by invasion as by diplomacy.”
Aslam said Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also declared his government would its sovereignty over all the communities formed by moving Jewish settlers to Palestinian lands.
He maintained Israel had created “irreversible facts on the ground” by following its settlement policy to make it as difficult as possible to end its prolonged occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
However, he pointed out the world had dealt with such problems in the past in other contexts while specifically mentioning the French government’s withdrawal of a million settlers from Algeria in 1962.
“France’s settlements in Algeria were not only more numerous they were also far older and better established than Israel’s West Bank colonies,” he continued.
The Pakistani law minister sought the reversal of the policy while saying: “Israel’s occupation is unlawful and unlawfulness must have consequences.”
The ICJ proceedings have come at a point when Israel has been accused of carrying out the genocide of Palestinian people in Gaza.
It besieged the territory and launched airstrikes after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas on Oct. 7 in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
The Palestinian death toll in the war has almost 30,000, with most victims of the conflict being women and children.


Leading VPN brand raises censorship concerns as Pakistan faces fifth Internet restriction in 2024

Updated 23 February 2024
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Leading VPN brand raises censorship concerns as Pakistan faces fifth Internet restriction in 2024

  • Surfshark says Pakistan willing to take any measure ‘to cut citizens off from each other and the rest of the world’
  • It mentions a spike in censorship, saying Pakistan witnessed four Internet restrictions in 2023 and three in 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s recent restriction on social media platform X marks the country’s 5th Internet restriction in 2024 alone, said a leading virtual network (VPN) brand on Friday, raising concerns about growing Internet censorship in the country.
The social networking website has largely remained inaccessible to users in Pakistan for nearly a week since a senior bureaucrat last Saturday accused the country’s chief justice and top election commission official of rigging the controversial February 8 election.
The blockage has raised widespread concerns about democratic expression and media freedom, with the United States and several international organizations urging the government to provide unhindered Internet access to people.
Surfshark, a leading VPN brand, said Pakistan witnessed three restrictions in February that were “directly related to the election, while the remaining two happened in January during virtual events organized by the opposition [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party].”
“These new cases mark a worrying spike in Internet censorship in Pakistan,” it said in a statement. “2024 has only started but has already exceeded both 2023 and 2022 in new restriction count — there were 4 Internet restrictions in 2023 and 3 in 2022.”
It added Surfshark had witnessed an increase in VPN usage in Pakistan since February 18.
“Daily new user acquisition rates have grown three to four times compared to the previous month, indicating a growing reliance on these services for Internet access and privacy,” it added.
The company noted that Pakistan had imposed restrictions on VPNs which could lead to difficulties when connecting to the circumvention tools.
“Pakistan’s Internet censorship efforts have been alarmingly increasing, and 2024 may be a record year for the country regarding Internet restrictions,” Lina Survila, Surfshark spokeswoman, said. “With reports of VPN restrictions coming to light as well, it seems that the country is prepared to take any means necessary to cut its citizens off from each other and the rest of the world.”
Earlier, NetBlocks, an Internet monitor based in the United Kingdom, said that restriction on platform X had entered the sixth day, making Pakistan join “a handful of countries that ban access to international social media platforms.”


Ex-PM Khan’s party says no intention to compromise Pakistan’s economic interests in letter to IMF

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party says no intention to compromise Pakistan’s economic interests in letter to IMF

  • Khan’s legal team said he wanted to write a letter to the international lender, asking it to seek election audit
  • Khan’s party says it cannot damage the country’s economy, recalls developing welfare plans for its people

ISLAMABAD: A top Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader on Friday denied speculations that former prime minister Imran Khan wanted to compromise the country’s economic interests to make political gains in a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying his party would never work against Pakistan.
The statement came a day after an IMF spokesperson told the media that the international lender did not want to comment on political developments in Pakistan in the wake of the general elections earlier this month which Khan’s party said were heavily rigged.
Prior to that, Khan’s legal team said he would send a letter to the IMF, which helped stabilize Pakistan’s economy when it was nearing default, requesting its officials to seek an independent audit of the February 8 national polls.
Pakistan is already under a short-term IMF loan program that is due to expire next month. The newly elected government is expected to negotiate yet another bailout package with the international lending agency in the coming months.
“We will not do anything that poses a threat to the state, causes harm to the state or damages the country’s economy,” Barrister Gohar Khan, PTI’s top leader in Khan’s absence, told a group of journalists in Rawalpindi. “The letter will be shared with you. You can read it.”
“Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has developed projects for the welfare of the people,” he continued. “It brought investment to Pakistan [during its tenure].”
Former PM Khan has faced legal challenges since he was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. He has been in prison after being convicted on corruption and other charges since August last year.
Another high-profile PTI leader, Barrister Ali Zafar, also tried to defend Khan’s decision to write to the IMF, saying Pakistan always came first and foremost for his party.
“We believe that Pakistan should continue to engage with IMF in order to ensure financial discipline, good governance and economic stability which is critical for the prosperity of the people of Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
“While we will continue to support all steps in this direction taken for the benefit of the country and in national interest, PTI will continue its struggle for democracy and raise its voice at all forums and expect the international community’s support,” he added.
According to media reports, Pakistan plans to get a new IMF loan of at least $6 billion, with the talks likely to begin in March or April.


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

Updated 23 February 2024
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.

The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.

The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.

“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”

A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.

“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media. 

“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”


Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

  • Ruling by chief justice related to blasphemy has sparked online backlash, led to thinly veiled death threats
  • CJ Qazi Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by Muslim scholars

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has defended its top judge after a ruling he issued related to blasphemy that sparked an online backlash and led to thinly veiled death threats.

The campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi religious sect, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.

The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy, a hot-button issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.

The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending the ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution.

“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”

Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party which has been behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.

The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”

Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan. The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims. The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.

In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constituion, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”

“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.

He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.

Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”

In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his own bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws.