Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony

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Pakistan's religious Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam-Fazl party supporters protest against alleged rigging in country's national poll in Karachi on February 24, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Police fire tear gas to disperse the supporters of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam–Fazl party, as they protest against the alleged skewing in Pakistan's national election results, in Karachi on February 24, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony

  • Political workers of different parties staged hours-long blockade of a central thoroughfare despite tear gas shelling
  • Jamaat-e-Islami, Grand Democratic Alliance and Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam raised rigging allegations after Feb. 8 polls

KARACHI: Several Pakistani parties on Saturday announced they would observe February 27 as “black day” in response to Sindh police firing tear gas at political workers protesting suspected rigging in the general elections earlier this month, as the newly elected lawmakers joined the inaugural session of the provincial legislature.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged the highest 84 seats in the southern Sindh province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which secured 28 seats, while 14 seats went to independents. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) religious party and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) won two seats each.
Supporters of the JI, GDA, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s South zone to protest the alleged manipulation of the Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in the release of constituency results.
Hundreds of police personnel were deployed to prevent opposition supporters from advancing toward the Sindh Assembly building. The GDA and JUI-F were en route to the Karachi Press Club when clashes broke out between their workers and the police, resulting in stone-pelting and tear gas shelling.
“I strongly condemn the police shelling over the JUI-F workers,” Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, the JI chief, said at a joint protest with the GDA. “We will observe February 27 as black day against election rigging and police torture on political workers.”
Rashid Soomro, a JUI-F leader, also confirmed development.
“Our peaceful workers were beaten and subjected to shelling as we attempted to reach the press club,” he said.
Political workers belonging to the protesting parties also blocked a main thoroughfare, Shahrah-e-Faisal, for several hours during the day.
Earlier, the outgoing speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Agha Siraj Durrani, administered oath to the newly elected lawmakers amid heavy security around the building.
“I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan, that as a member of the provincial assembly of Sindh, I will perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully, in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the law and the rules of the assembly, and always in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan,” Durrani said as he read out the oath to the lawmakers.
“May Allah Almighty help me and guide me.”
In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.
The oath-taking ceremony came a day after the PPP nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again, Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.
“We will not only compete with the governments of other provinces but also with the Center in performance,” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a former foreign minister and the PPP chairman, said at a meeting of newly elected party lawmakers in Karachi.
The PPP chairman announced that his party would forge a working relationship with all opposition parties in Sindh and address their legitimate grievances, according to a PPP statement. He urged the newly elected lawmakers to play their role in resolving the people’s problems in their respective constituencies.
“Be my eyes and ears,” Bhutto-Zardari was quoted as saying. “You play the role of a bridge between the people of your constituency and me; you are my ambassador to the people.”


Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations

Updated 16 sec ago
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Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations

  • A cabinet committee recognized ‘strategic nature’ of Pakistan Television Corporation, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation
  • The development comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization, reforms in loss-making state enterprises for IMF bailout

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday sought a “viable business plan” for two state-owned broadcasting corporations, the Finance Division said, amid the South Asian country’s push for reforms in loss-making state entities.

The statement came after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises (CCoSOEs) in Islamabad, which was presided over by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb.

The development comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization and reforms in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as it negotiates with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a fresh bailout program.

The cabinet committee reviewed a proposal of the information ministry regarding the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) and the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC).

“The CCoSOEs recognized the strategic nature of Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and directed the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoIB) to present a viable business plan to the committee for efficient management of these enterprises,” the Finance Division said in a statement.

Under the last $3 billion IMF program that helped Pakistan avert a debt default last year, the lender said SOEs whose losses were burning a hole in government finances would need stronger governance.

To negotiate a fresh bailout with the IMF, Pakistan must implement an ambitious reforms agenda, including the privatization of debt-ridden SOEs.

Among the main entities Pakistan is pushing to privatize is its national flag carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The government is putting on the block a stake ranging from 51 percent to 100 percent.


Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman

Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman

  • Saudi king is due to undergo treatment for lung inflammation, SPA reported
  • Shehbaz Sharif says King Salman sincere friend of Pakistan, guide for Muslim world

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday extended prayers for the recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who is due to undergo treatment for lung inflammation.

The treatment will consist of a course of antibiotics at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The king underwent medical tests at the royal clinics at the palace earlier on Sunday after he suffered from a high temperature and joint pain.

“I have learnt with grave concern about the health of His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz. His Majesty is not only a sincere friend of Pakistan but as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a leader and guide for the entire Muslim ummah,” Sharif said on X.

“The people of Pakistan join me in praying to the Almighty for His Majesty’s complete recovery and swift return to full health.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to a large number of Pakistani expatriates and serves as the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has also often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid by regularly providing it oil on deferred payment and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.


Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Updated 20 May 2024
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Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

  • Government says it won’t end net-metering policy for solar power producers, promises to honor commitments made by companies
  • Pakistan’s energy woes stem from high capacity charges consumers pay due to long-term government contracts with power producers

KARACHI: Controversies about net-metering and imposition of a new tax have cast a cloud over Pakistan’s transition to solar energy despite the government’s ambitious plans, stakeholders said on Monday, adding the situation has left them in a state of uncertainty.

Pakistan approved the net-metering policy in 2017 that allows consumers to sell excess electricity produced by their solar systems to power distribution companies, resulting in significant savings in their monthly bills.

However, the energy ministry stirred a controversy last month by declaring that net-metering was promoting “unhealthy investments” in installation of solar power by affluent domestic and industrial consumers, hinting at cutting the buyback rates.

“Before this [controversy], people were shifting to solar [energy] in such a way that we thought that 100 percent Pakistan embraced solar energy,” Zulfiqar Ali, an importer, supplier and installer of solar panels, told Arab News on Monday.

“Now, we’re witnessing a stark contrast, a slowdown in inquiries, stagnation in projects, all amidst a talk of governmental reconsideration of solar energy policies.”

Ali said the net-metering issue had a lot of effect on the market as the purchasing groups suddenly went silent and the deals that were going on became stagnant. “The planned projects have gone into an idle position, people are neither saying yes nor no,” he added.

Recent reports published by local media about new taxes and an end to net-metering policy further compounded the situation and prompted Energy Minister Awais Leghari to explain the government’s position on the matter. 

“We completely reject these stories. The agreements our companies have made with net-metering users, whether they are for five years, six years, or seven years, will not be altered in any way and the government will not damage its reputation, nor will it cause any inconvenience to those investors,” Leghari said at a press conference in Lahore on Sunday.

He said the government was fully committed to renewable energy and solarization and was in favor of continuing the net-metering policy. 

“If, after studying it over the next few months, there is a need to revise it, it will be done very responsibly and in consultation with stakeholders,” Leghari said.

“After the approval of the entire government, if necessary, we will rationalize this. At this moment, we are committed to fulfilling all the contracts we have signed with various people. We will uphold the integrity of the entire government and move forward together.”

But despite the government’s assurances, an atmosphere of uncertainty prevails in the South Asian country with regard to solarization.

“I wanted to install solar panels at my rooftop to mitigate the impact of high electricity bills but now I am unable to take a decision because of the government’s intended moves of either taxing panels or curtailing net-metering benefits,” said Khalid Abbas, a resident of Karachi, adding that he would wait for clarity on the subject.

Solar panel suppliers said people, who were buying solar panels by selling their cars or jewelry, had stopped purchasing the equipment. 

“Residential consumers who wanted to install 5-20KW panels have stopped and are waiting for clarity,” Zulfiqar said.

Pakistan’s energy woes stem from the substantially high electricity bills, mainly due to the capacity charges that are as high as 65 percent and the nation is bound to pay these to power producers, even though their plants stand idle. 

The power purchase price (PPP), or the average per unit price based on the generation cost, is Rs20.60, which includes Rs14.09 capacity charges, and Rs6.21 fuel and variable charges, according to Pakistan’s reference tariff for fiscal year 2023-2024.

Pakistani energy experts believe the volume with which solar energy is increasing is still “insignificant” and does not even make 1 percent of the total power generation in the country.

“But the way it is going on in Pakistan, perhaps a significant portion of our net-metering will be done from it,” Dr. Khalid Waleed, an expert on energy economics, told Arab News. “Around 2,000MWs will be coming from net-metering. So, it should not be discouraged at all.”

When consumers switch to solar power, Waleed said, capacity charges are borne by other consumers that ultimately increases their power burden. 

Experts say the country won’t be able to get rid of the capacity charges before 2050 due to long-term contracts made with power producers.


Pakistan Deputy PM arrives in Kazakhstan to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting

Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan Deputy PM arrives in Kazakhstan to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting

  • The SCO is a major trans-regional organization and its member states collectively represent nearly half of world population
  • Deputy PM Ishaq Dar will meet Kyrgyz FM Jeenbek Kulubaev tonight to discuss the latest situation after Bishkek mob violence

ISLAMABAD: Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, on Monday arrived in Kazakhstan to attend a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Pakistani foreign ministry said.

Founded in 2001, the SCO is a major trans-regional organization spanning South and Central Asia, with China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as its permanent members. The SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of the world’s population and a quarter of global economic output. 

The organization’s agenda of promoting peace and stability, and seeking enhanced linkages in infrastructure, economic, trade and cultural spheres, is aligned with Pakistan’s own vision of enhancing economic connectivity as well as peace and stability in the region.

Upon arrival at the Astana airport, Dar was received by Director of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nursalimuly Yergalym, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Astana Nauman Bashir Bhatti and Pakistan’s National Coordinator for the SCO, Ambassador Marghoob Saleem Butt.

“In Astana, a meeting has been arranged between the Deputy Prime Minister Dar with the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyz Republic, Jeenbek Kulubaev, this evening in order to discuss the latest situation in Bishkek with a view to ensure the well-being of Pakistani students,” the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement.

Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media.

Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 600 Pakistani students have returned home via three 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.

In Astana, Dar will represent Pakistan at the two-day meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers. He will also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the summit.

Since becoming a full member of the SCO in 2017, Pakistan has been actively contributing toward advancing the organization’s core objectives through its participation in various SCO mechanisms.

During his visit to China last week, Dar also met SCO Secretary-General Ambassador Zhang Ming and reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the organization’s charter and its ideals, the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

“He expressed Pakistan’s strong commitment to advancing SCO’s security and development cooperation agenda,” the statement said.


Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan

Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan

  • Pakistan will play a home match against Saudi Arabia on June 6 in Islamabad
  • It will be followed by an away match in Tajikistan on June 11, the PFF says

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan football team has begun practicing in Islamabad for the upcoming matches against Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan as part of the FIFA World Cup qualifier round-2, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said on Monday.

The Pakistan side is scheduled to play a home match against Saudi Arabia on June 6 in Islamabad, which would be followed by an away match in Tajikistan on June 11. Pakistan is in Group G along with Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan.

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.

“Head coach Stephen Constantine is leading the team’s efforts, focusing on refining their skills and tactics for the encounter against one of the football powerhouses (Saudi Arabia),” the PFF said in a statement.

“Goalkeeping coaches Rogerio Ramos and Noman Ibrahim have been dedicating their efforts to the goalkeepers, while fitness coach Claudio Altieri is ensuring peak performance in preparation for the crucial match.”

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.