US sets up hotline for Afghans in American immigration process amid Pakistan deportation drive

A sign pointing at the United States Department of State is pictured in Washington, US on August 6, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 November 2023
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US sets up hotline for Afghans in American immigration process amid Pakistan deportation drive

  • The UK recently arranged special flights with Pakistan’s aviation agency to relocate Afghans who assisted British forces
  • US officials have urged Pakistan not to repatriate its Afghan allies due to potential dangers in their homeland

KARACHI: The US Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs announced on Friday it had established an “emergency hotline” for Afghan nationals waiting for American visas amid a deportation drive initiated by Pakistani authorities to send unregistered migrants back to their respective countries.

The initiative is specifically designed for Afghans who are in the process of US immigration and resettlement, offering support during a period of heightened vulnerability. Many of these individuals had collaborated with US-led forces in Afghanistan before their August 2020 withdrawal from Kabul and subsequently fled to Pakistan, fearing reprisals from the Taliban who had swept back to power.

“The Dept of State has launched an emergency hotline for Afghans facing deportation or detainment in Pakistan who are in a US immigration and resettlement pathway,” the American authorities announced in a social media post, adding that the number was “available Mon-Sat from 8 AM to midnight Islamabad time.”

Pakistan’s decision last month to expel ‘illegal migrants,’ predominantly Afghans, followed a string of extremist attacks and suicide bombings, leading to accusations against Kabul of harboring anti-Pakistan militants.

This led to the Pakistani government’s Nov. 1 deadline, urging undocumented foreigners to voluntarily leave and resulting in the establishment of “holding centers” for rounding up Afghan families for deportation.

Amid these expulsions, registered Afghan refugees also reported instances of harassment.

The US is not the only country working to resettle Afghans who aided their efforts in Afghanistan. The UK also arranged special flights with the Pakistani aviation agency to relocate Afghans who assisted British forces.

While the US has taken more time in facilitating the relocation of its Afghan allies, its officials have urged Pakistan not to repatriate these individuals due to potential dangers in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar told Arab News that Afghan applicants for special visas to the US and other Western nations had the right to remain in Pakistan for a “limited time.”

He confirmed that Islamabad was coordinating with Afghan groups to reach an “agreement” aimed at safeguarding those at risk of persecution in their homeland.


Over 100 Pakistani delegates take part in global tech conference hosted by Qatar

Updated 6 sec ago
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Over 100 Pakistani delegates take part in global tech conference hosted by Qatar

  • The conference, scheduled to run till Feb. 29, is being attended by entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from various countries
  • Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) chairman hopes conference results in Pakistan’s economic development, job creation

ISLAMABAD: Over 100 Pakistani delegates are attending one of the world’s biggest tech conferences in Doha to showcase the country’s tech potential and interact with their global counterparts to share best practices and cutting-edge ideas, a press release by the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) said on Wednesday. 
Entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from around the world converged in central Doha on Monday to take part in the Web Summit 2024 being held in the Gulf nation. The conference, which will run till Feb. 29, will see participants establish new connections, share insights and secure funds for their organizations. 
Pakistan’s Ambassador to Qatar Muhemmed Aejaz and P@SHA Chairman Muhammad Zohaib Khan inaugurated the “Pakistan Pavilion” at the summit on Tuesday. 
“H. E. Muhemmed Aejaz expressed his satisfaction that more than 100 delegates from Pakistan are attending this event of global significance,” P@SHA said in a statement. “And, Embassy of Qatar has played its catalytic role to create an enabling environment for B2B matchmaking.”
Khan said the spotlight on Pakistani innovation, talent, and potential at the event can draw foreign direct investment (FDI) for the country. He hoped the event would also help support economic development, result in job creation and increase revenue generation. 
He said Pakistani professionals would interact with their international counterparts to exchange insights, best practices and cutting-edge ideas. 
“This cross-fertilization of expertise can accelerate growth in the IT industry – allowing Pakistan’s IT industry to enter new markets, new verticals and increase its customer base,” the statement added. 
P@SHA said it had collaborated with Pakistan’s IT and foreign affairs ministries for the conference. The association said it had also collaborated with Pakistan’s top investment body, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) and Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar for the Web Summit. 
Pakistani companies participating in the event are Bitsol Technologies, Crecentech Systems, Cloudpacer, Discretelogix, DevGate, Eraflip Tech, Ideofuzion, Planet Beyond, Reach the Globe, Support Solutions Hub, Sherdil Cloud, SI Global Solutions, Technupur, Verticalsols and Ziscomm, the press release said.


In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

Updated 44 min 7 sec ago
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In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

  • Shehrbano Naqvi saved a woman surrounded in Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Army chief General Syed Asim Munir meets Naqvi, lauds her for “selfless devotion to duty and professionalism” in diffusing a volatile situation 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday lauded a policewoman for risking her life to save a citizen from a blasphemy mob last week, stressing the importance of rule of law in the country and advising citizens against taking the law into their hands. 
Senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, was praised by politicians, senior police officials and the general public after a video of her emerged on social media this week in which she can be seen rescuing a woman from a charged crowd.
The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an. Naqvi later clarified that the dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) or the army’s media wing, Naqvi called on Munir at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday. 
“COAS [chief of army staff] lauded ASP Shehrbano for her selfless devotion to duty and professionalism in diffusing a volatile situation,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. He said Pakistani women are an inalienable part of the country’s society, noting that their respect is enshrined in the country’s religion and social ethos. 
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
In 2011, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Munir highlighted the importance of social harmony and the need for consensus on curbing intolerance, the ISPR said. 
“He emphasized upon the rule of law and advised against taking the law in one’s hands when legal avenues are available for addressing concerns and grievances,” the army’s media wing said. 
“COAS appreciated the sacrifices rendered by the law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of Pakistan.”


‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

Updated 51 min 5 sec ago
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‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

  • The upcoming coalition government’s electoral mandate may not be sufficiently strong to pursue difficult reforms
  • The credit rating agency warns that the rating would be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations

KARACHI: Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday warned of political risks following “highly controversial” general elections in Pakistan that could lead to insufficient mandate for the next government to pursue difficult economic reforms needed at this stage.
The international agency maintained Pakistan’s ratings, including its Caa3 long-term issuer rating, with a stable outlook unchanged after completing a periodic review of the country’s ratings.
“Pakistan’s credit profile reflects the government’s very high liquidity and external vulnerability risks as the very low levels of foreign exchange reserves remain well below what is required to meet its very high external financing needs over the near to medium term,” Moody’s said in the review report.
The agency did not announce a credit rating action but highlighted the “country’s very weak fiscal strength and elevated political risks” that may also constrain the credit profile.
The South Asian nation is in the process of forming a government after key political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), agreed on a power-sharing formula last week.
The general elections were marred by allegations of rigging and manipulation.
“Political risks are high, following a highly controversial general elections held on 8 February 2024,” the agency said.
Although a coalition government looks set to be formed, the report said there was high uncertainty around the newly elected government’s willingness and ability to quickly negotiate a new International Monetary Fund program soon after the current $3 billion short-term loan expires next month.
Moody’s said Pakistan’s ability to secure loans from other bilateral and multilateral partners would be severely constrained until the new IMF financing was reached.
Its assessment comes only a year after it downgraded the country’s rating to Caa3 from Caa1, following deadlock in talks with the IMF amid depletion of foreign exchange reserves.
The large amount of external financing required over the medium term along with Pakistan’s very low reserves position imply material default risks if there were funding delays from the IMF and other partners.
“Social pressures and weaknesses in governance may also raise challenges in meeting criteria for future IMF funding,” the agency said.
The agency warned that the rating would likely be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations to private-sector creditors and the expected losses to creditors as a result of any restructuring were larger than consistent with a Caa3 rating.


Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

Updated 28 February 2024
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Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

  • Cash-strapped Pakistan secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer
  • A new Pakistani government may need to seek more funds from the global lender

ISLAMABAD: The party of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to factor in the country’s political stability in any further bailout talks, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Khan’s party has sent a letter to the IMF detailing its position, two senior sources in Khan’s party with knowledge of the letter said.
Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to recover from an economic crisis and secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer. Analysts say that a new government — which Khan’s opponents are expected to form after this month’s national election — may need to seek more funds from the global lender.


After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

Updated 28 February 2024
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After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

  • X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Feb. 8 elections
  • X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about state of democratic freedoms

ISLAMABAD: After being inaccessible for millions of Pakistanis for 11 consecutive days, many users reported they were able to use the social media platform X without enabling a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on Wednesday morning. 

X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Pakistan’s Feb. 8 general election. The admission came as former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties staged protests countrywide, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rigged elections, which it denies. Mobile phone services were also shut down on polling day over security threats. 

X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country, with the United States and several international organizations urging Pakistan to provide unhindered Internet access and leading digital rights activists calling the blockade a “blatant violation” of civil liberties. 

On Wednesday afternoon, multiple Arab News staffers were able to access X without a VPN, which can mask the identity and location of users to help access websites and services that may be blocked in a certain region. 

VPNs have become increasingly popular in the days since access to X was cut off for much of the country but software application Surfshark reported this week the Pakistan government was working to restrict VPN as well, which the company’s engineers were working to bypass. 

“Twitter (X) is working without VPN in #Pakistan,” journalist Shiraz Hassan said on X. 

A day earlier on Tuesday, Internet observatory group Netblocks said metrics showed X had remained restricted in Pakistan into a tenth day, “as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms.” 

Before the latest blockade, Pakistan experienced multiple Internet disruptions in recent weeks that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible. Recent occurrences were on Jan. 20, Jan. 7 and Dec. 17, when Khan’s PTI party was holding virtual events. The government had blamed those disruptions on “technical glitches.” 

Such shutdowns have previously had a devastating impact on Pakistan’s economy. The day after Khan’s arrest in May last year, Reuters reported that point-of-sale transactions routed through Pakistan’s main digital payment systems fell by around 50 percent according to the region’s two largest payments system operators, 1LINK and Habib Bank Limited.

According to the Internet Society’s monitor Pulse, it is becoming an increasingly common tactic for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level to either control civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, sway the results of general elections or to gain strategic advantages in territories with ongoing wars.