PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

In this screengrab taken from WE News's YouTube page on October 12, 2023, Pakistani interim prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar speaks during an interview with an online publication, WE News, in Islamabad. (WE News/File)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

  • Pakistan’s army, intelligence agencies deny carrying out enforced disappearances
  • Balochistan province is the site of a decades long low-level separatist insurgency 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said on Wednesday the Pakistani state was not responsible for enforced disappearances, a recurring problem that is often blamed on security agencies in the country’s impoverished southwestern Balochistan province.

The prime minister issued the statement during an appearance before the Islamabad High Court in connection with a case regarding Baloch missing students.

Balochistan has long been plagued by enforced disappearances, with families saying men are picked up by security forces, disappear often for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies deny they carry out enforced disappearances.

Separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups operating Balochistan, have been fighting a decades long insurgency for independence for mountainous and mineral-rich Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by territory but the smallest in terms of population. Rights activists, political leaders and families say the insurgency has been used as a pretext to pick up innocent civilians, which the state denies. 

“It is not correct to consider the entire state guilty [for enforced disappearances in Balochistan],” Kakar was widely quoted by local media as telling the court, castigating state critics for not holding separatists and militants responsible when they killed innocent civilians and security officials. 

Balochistan borders Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west and has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. It has Pakistan’s largest natural gas field and is believed to hold many more undiscovered reserves. It is also rich in precious metals including gold, the production of which has grown over recent years.

Balochistan is a key location in China’s huge multi-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Though separatists mostly target Pakistani security forces and state installations in Balochistan, they have also attacked Chinese workers and projects. 

In a rare statement on the issue in 2019, the military sympathized with families of missing Balochs but said some may have joined militant groups and “not every person missing is attributable to the state.”

Pakistan has repeatedly blamed India for fanning militancy in Balochistan, a charge New Delhi denies. 


Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart

Updated 12 sec ago
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Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart

  • Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week
  • FM Ishaq Dar told his Kyrgyz counterpart Pakistan’s main concern was the safety of its nationals, especially students, affected by Friday’s violence

ISLAMABAD: Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev on Monday met Pakistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Ishaq Dar, in Astana and assured him the Kyrgyz government would bring to justice perpetrators of last week’s mob attacks on foreign students in Bishkek, Pakistani state media reported.

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.

The meeting between Dar and his Kyrgyz counterpart was held in Astana, Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers, the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“Kyrgyz government has 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,” the report quoted FM Kulubaev as telling his Pakistani counterpart.

During the meeting, Dar shared concerns about Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan and requested Foreign Minister Kulubaev to ensure their security, according to the report.

He underlined that Pakistan’s main concern was the well-being of its nationals, especially the students who were primarily affected by last week’s violence.

“Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Kyrgyz Republic, especially in the domains of energy, connectivity, trade and people-to-people contacts also came under discussion,” the report read.

“Both the dignitaries expressed satisfaction at the progress of established bilateral institutional mechanisms.”

Dar arrived in Kazakhstan on Monday to 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.

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.

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.


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

Updated 53 min 9 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.