Pakistan’s civil, military leaders to review Iran standoff — minister

Pakistan's caretaker information minister, Murtaza Solangi (center), speaks during a press briefing in Islamabad on January 9, 2024. (APP)
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Updated 19 January 2024
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Pakistan’s civil, military leaders to review Iran standoff — minister

  • Neighbours carried out drone and missile strikes on militant bases in each other’s territory this week
  • PM Kakar cut short a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos and flew home on Thursday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top civilian and military leaders will carry out a security review on Friday on the standoff with Iran, the information minister said, after the neighbors carried out drone and missile strikes on militant bases in each other’s territory.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar will chair a meeting of the National Security Committee, with all the military services chiefs in attendance, the minister, Murtaza Solangi, told Reuters by telephone.
It aims at a “broad national security review in the aftermath of the Iran-Pakistan incidents,” Solangi said. Kakar cut short a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos and flew home on Thursday.
The tit-for-tat strikes by the two countries are the highest-profile cross-border intrusions in recent years and have raised alarm about wider instability in the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7.
However, both sides have already signalled a desire to cool tensions, the highest in years, although they have had a history of rocky relations.
Iran said Thursday’s strikes killed nine people in a border village on its territory, including four children. Pakistan said the Iranian attack on Tuesday killed two children.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the two nations to exercise maximum restraint. The US also urged restraint although President Joe Biden said the clashes showed that Iran is not well liked in the region.
Islamabad said it hit bases of the separatist Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Army, while Tehran said its drones and missiles targeted militants from the Jaish al Adl (JAA), a third group.
The targeted militant groups operate in an area that includes Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan and Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. Both are restive, mineral-rich and largely underdeveloped.
The groups which Islamabad targeted inside Iran have been waging an armed insurgency for decades against the Pakistani state, including attacks against Chinese citizens and investments in Balochistan.
The JAA, which Iran targeted, is also an ethnic militant group, but with Sunni Islamist leanings that primarily Shiite Iran sees as a threat.
The group, which has had links to Islamic State, has carried out attacks in Iran against its powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, Iran and its allies had been flexing their muscles in the region, even before its cross-border incursion into Pakistan.
Iran launched strikes on Syria against what Tehran said were Islamic State sites, and Iraq, where it said it had struck an Israeli espionage center.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen have targeted shipping in the Red Sea since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians.


Supreme Court resumes hearing denial of reserved seats petitions filed by ex-PM Khan-backed party

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Supreme Court resumes hearing denial of reserved seats petitions filed by ex-PM Khan-backed party

  • Pakistan’s election regulator denied these seats for women and minorities to Sunni Ittehad Council after Feb. polls
  • The outcome of the case may impact National Assembly’s composition, influencing how the government functions

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court is scheduled to take up a significant political case today, Monday, involving petitions that challenge the denial of reserved seats in parliament to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a party backed by the country’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

These seats for women and minorities in Pakistan’s national and provincial legislatures, constitutionally reserved for greater political inclusion, are allocated to various political factions on a proportional basis after considering the number of general seats won by them during elections.

Leaders from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were compelled to contest the national polls in February as independent candidates after being deprived of their party symbol, the cricket bat, by the Supreme Court of Pakistan due to internal elections deemed flawed.

The PTI-backed independent candidates won the maximum number of seats, emerging as the single largest bloc in the National Assembly, but chose to join the SIC in the absence of their original party identity.

However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided not to allocate the reserved seats to them on technical grounds, instead distributing the SIC’s share among other parties.

“All of these returned candidates were PTI candidates forced by cascading series of errors of law by the ECP to take on the garb of independents,” Justice Munib Akhtar, one of the 13 members of the Supreme Court bench hearing the case, remarked during the last proceeding on June 4.

The Pakistani top court suspended the Peshawar High Court’s verdict in the case last month that followed the ECP decision and upheld it.

The outcome of the case can be politically significant since it may impact the National Assembly’s composition, influencing how legislations are passed and the government functions.

Khan’s party says it is hopeful of winning 78 reserved seats in parliament given to the rival parties after the elections.


PM Sharif’s administration prioritizes security for local and foreign nationals, announces special security unit

Updated 23 June 2024
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PM Sharif’s administration prioritizes security for local and foreign nationals, announces special security unit

  • The prime minister asks the relevant authorities to ‘consult Chinese experts’ for the unit’s formation in Islamabad
  • Shehbaz Sharif orders the construction of a forensic lab in the capital that is in keeping with modern requirements

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Sunday protecting Pakistani citizens and foreign nationals residing in the country was a major priority for his administration, as he announced the formation of a special unit for the purpose in the federal capital, to be developed in consultation with Chinese experts.
Top Pakistani officials have held high-profile meetings in recent weeks to underscore their intent to address the challenge of militant violence, which has jeopardized the government’s plan to invite foreign companies and put the national economy back on track.
A day earlier, the prime minister announced plans to prepare a comprehensive response to the issue, warning that a “soft state” could not strengthen its economy as it struggles to gain investor confidence.
He revisited the issue while chairing a meeting in Islamabad to review the progress of ongoing security and public order projects.
“The protection of Pakistani citizens and foreigners residing in Pakistan is among the top priorities of the state,” he was quoted as saying by a statement issued by his office. “Any negligence in maintaining public order and protecting citizens will not be tolerated.”
The prime minister was briefed about the current law and order situation in the federal capital along with the Islamabad Model Jail, Safe City Project, Federal Anti-Terrorism Department, and Special Protection Unit.
The statement informed that Sharif asked the authorities to “consult with Chinese experts” for the formation of the unit.
The meeting also briefed about the National Facilitation Centers in Islamabad and the K-9 units established for the detection and tracing of drugs and explosives.
The prime minister directed the construction of a forensic lab in keeping with the modern requirements and asked the authorities to recruit the personnel on merit for all security projects in Islamabad.
The meeting was also attended by Federal Minister for Interior Mohsin Naqvi, Deputy Chairman Planning Jahangir Khan, Federal Secretaries, and senior officials from the relevant departments.


National Assembly passes resolution against mob lynchings in Pakistan, demands citizen safety

Updated 24 June 2024
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National Assembly passes resolution against mob lynchings in Pakistan, demands citizen safety

  • The development follows the killing of a local tourist in Swat on the accusation of desecrating the Holy Qur’an
  • Pakistani lawmakers say violent acts committed in the name of religion have become a norm in the country

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution on Sunday condemning recent mob lynching incidents in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces, while urging relevant authorities to ensure the safety of all citizens, including religious minorities, and bring perpetrators of such violence to justice.
The development follows the recent torture and killing of a local tourist in the picturesque Swat valley of KP, accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an, whose body was then set alight by a furious mob.
During Saturday’s parliamentary debate, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal emphasized this was not an isolated incident, but part of a troubling series of violent acts committed in the name of religion.
Earlier today, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif echoed the concern, urging the National Assembly to adopt a clear stance on the issue.
“The House believes that right to life is the most cherished right as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan,” the resolution presented by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said. “Every person is to be dealt with in accordance with the law and not otherwise.”
“This House takes serious notice of the recent mob lynchings of our citizens accused of offenses in Swat and Sargodha,” it continued. “It is noted with grave concern that such incidents have recently increased in different parts of the country. The House strongly condemns these horrific and tragic incidents which cannot be tolerated in any civilized society.”
The resolution urged the federal and provincial governments to ensure “the safety and security of all our citizens, including religious minorities and other vulnerable segments of society.”
Referring to another incident where a Christian man was targeted by his enraged neighbors in Punjab’s Sargodha district over blasphemy allegation, the resolution asked Punjab and KP administrations to “take all necessary measures to ensure that persons involved in these incidents are identified, investigated and prosecuted under the relevant laws.”
“The House also expects that the courts shall ensure immediate and speedy justice in these cases,” it added.
The KP police have formed a joint investigation team to investigate the Swat incident and arrest all involved individuals using CCTV footage.
Mob lynchings are not uncommon in Pakistan where even a mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to violence.
In case of Swat, mob members killed the tourist after storming the police station where he was detained, pulling him out and taking him away.


‘Positive’ progress in talks between Pakistani parties as government seeks budget’s parliamentary approval

Updated 23 June 2024
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‘Positive’ progress in talks between Pakistani parties as government seeks budget’s parliamentary approval

  • PPP says its recommendations relating to the budget are based on its manifesto that centers on public welfare
  • The party has taken up issues related to development funds and administrative positions with the ruling PML-N

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said on Sunday the latest round of negotiations with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party continued in a “positive way” after the PPP expressed reservations about a range of issues following the presentation of the federal budget earlier this month.
The PPP decided to support the PML-N’s efforts to form a coalition government soon after the last general elections in February, though its top leadership announced it was not interested in becoming part of the federal cabinet or getting ministerial posts.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif invited PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari last week to discuss his reservations over the government’s economic and political policies amid efforts to secure a smooth passage for the budget from parliament.
The two leaders agreed to form negotiating teams to discuss all outstanding issues that mostly related to development funds and administrative positions in the country’s most populous Punjab province.
“Different matters were discussed between the two sides, and the talks continued to move forward in a very positive way,” PPP Secretary General in Central Punjab Syed Hassan Murtaza, who is part of his party’s negotiating team, told Arab News after the latest round of talks with the PML-N in Islamabad earlier today.
“We have given all our recommendations regarding the budget, good governance, appointments and transfers [of bureaucracy], funds for ongoing development schemes in Sindh and other areas,” he continued. “We have also urged to release funds for the schemes suggested by the PPP members.”
Murtaza maintained the PPP’s stance and recommendations relating to the federal budget were based on its manifesto that centered on public welfare.
He said the party had also informed the PML-N that PPP leaders must be consulted if the government wanted to make changes to the local government legislation in Punjab.
According to some reports, it was also discussed during the negotiations that an additional secretary be appointed at the chief minister’s secretariat in Punjab, with the sole responsibility of resolving the issues faced by the PPP.
The PPP also wanted a say in the Punjab administration’s decisions to appoint deputy commissioners, district police officers and revenue functionaries in districts where the party boasts active support.
“Now, we will inform our leadership, and the PML-N delegation will consult their leadership on [these issues] before another round of talks is held to move forward,” Murtaza said. “The final decisions will be taken as per the direction of the party leadership.”


New Pakistan political party to focus on economic reform, reduce government footprint, founder says

Updated 23 June 2024
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New Pakistan political party to focus on economic reform, reduce government footprint, founder says

  • Awam Pakistan Party led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi scheduled for launch on July 6 in Islamabad
  • Founder Miftah Ismail says party leaders will hold workers’ conventions, seminars across the country to mobilize the public

ISLAMABAD: The Awam Pakistan Party, scheduled for launch on July 6 in Islamabad, plans to focus on the economic prosperity of people by extending tax concessions to middle-income and salaried classes and bringing down annual government expenditure, a top party official announced Sunday.
Miftah Ismail, one of the founding members of the party who previously served as finance minister, said that people from all four provinces had already started joining the party.
More than 175 political factions have been registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan, though only 13 of them managed to get their members elected to the National Assembly in the wake of the last general elections held on February 8.
The leading political parties in the country pivot around a central leader who is viewed as charismatic by its followers and play a vital role in getting the popular vote.
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-finance minister Ismail, the driving forces behind the new party, aim to encourage public participation in governance and address the country’s fragile economy through reforms and the privatization of public entities.
“One of our major purposes behind forming the new political party is to struggle for the uplift of poor people through their active participation in politics, governance and economy,” Ismail told Arab News in a conversation over the phone.
“We have to extend tax concessions to middle-income and salaried classes, focus on privatization, limit the government’s footprint by encouraging the private sector and privatize the public organizations to reform the economy,” he added.
Ismail said Pakistan had been one of the leading economies in the region until the 1990s, but the poor governance model brought its development to the lowest level in the last two to three decades.
“A specific elite group is ruling the country without the active participation of the public, experts and professionals,” he maintained, pointing out that his party wanted to focus on improving the education and health sectors.
Criticizing the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the ex-finance minister said the current administration had lost the opportunity for economic reforms by bringing in the latest budget.
“This government has literally wasted opportunities for effective reforms in the governance and economic models,” he said.
Ismail acknowledged it was a long and assiduous journey to establish the new party, adding it would also be challenging to get its members elected to parliament.
“We know it is difficult,” he said, “but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
“If elections are held in a year now, definitely we will not be in a position to fully participate in them through our platform,” he continued. “But if we get two to three years ahead of the national elections, we will be in a position to field our candidates across the country.”
Ismail said the Awam Pakistan Party leadership planned to hold workers’ conventions across the country and mobilize the public.
“We will be using social media effectively for our publicity, but along with that, we will be focusing on ground activities like conventions and seminars on issues of public importance,” he added.