Pakistan’s national airline to seek help from Canadian authorities after two more cabin crew slip away

People stand in queue as they wait their turn to buy flight tickets outside Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) office in Islamabad on July 1, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 March 2024
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Pakistan’s national airline to seek help from Canadian authorities after two more cabin crew slip away

  • Steward Jibran Baloch, Airhostess Maryam Raza flew to Toronto this week but did not show up for return flights
  • At least 10 PIA crew have slipped in Canada in last two years due to ‘easy access to asylum’ there, the airline says

KARACHI: The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is planning to seek the help from the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Canadian immigration authorities after two attendants on its flights to Toronto slipped away in Canada this week, a PIA spokesperson said on Saturday, adding the latest incident marked the 10th such case in a span of two years.

The development comes amid a noticeable surge in the number of Pakistani nationals attempting to reach developed countries in Europe and North America through irregular means in recent years, driven by their desire to escape challenging economic conditions at home.

In June last year, a weathered trawler carrying more than 750 irregular migrants, including 350 from Pakistan, sank near Greece, prompting Pakistani officials to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Greek authorities to enhance cooperation against human traffickers and avert similar tragedies in future.

The recent disappearance of two PIA employees, Flight Steward Jibran Baloch and Airhostess Maryam Raza, in Canada suggests the emergence of a similar trend among white-collar workers in the country. Baloch, who was aboard the Toronto-bound PK-782 flight on Feb. 29, failed to report back, while Raza, who flew to Toronto, did not show up for the return flight PK-784 to Karachi.

Confirming both incidents, PIA spokesperson Abdullah Khan said the airline, after implementing several measures, had decided to seek assistance from the FIA and Canadian immigration authorities to locate and bring back the missing cabin crew.

“Now we are planning some action through the FIA and Canadian immigration authorities,” Khan told Arab News. “Approaching them both.”

The development comes more than a month after Airhostess Faiza Mukhtar, assigned to PIA flight PK-781, disappeared in Canada in January.

With three such cases this year, Khan said, the number of airline crew who “vanished” in the North American country had now reached 10 over the last two years, a trend he attributed to “easy access to asylum and general trend of people trying to flee the country.”

Khan said the airline had implemented various measures, including profiling and restricting crew to those aged 50 and above as well as retaining passports with the station manager upon arrival at foreign destinations, but none had proven effective in preventing the crew members from slipping away.

“A lot of things have been tried so far from profiling to sending only 50+ crew to retaining passports with the station manager upon arrival,” he said. “Nothing has worked.”

Pakistan has witnessed an economic meltdown over the last more than a year, with inflation hitting record highs, local currency devaluing and costs of living rising to unprecedented levels.

The situation has forced many young Pakistanis to leave the country, some even risking their lives, in search of greener pastures abroad.


Pakistan’s independent election monitor says by-poll irregularities overshadow improved result management

Updated 11 sec ago
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Pakistan’s independent election monitor says by-poll irregularities overshadow improved result management

  • FAFEN says its observers were stopped from monitoring elections at 19 polling stations in two Punjab constituencies
  • It mentions a decline in the number of votes cast despite an overall increase in registered voters since February 8

ISLAMABAD: An independent election monitoring network in Pakistan highlighted low voter turnout and procedural irregularities in provincial constituencies in Punjab on Tuesday, saying such teething issues dominated improved result management in the by-polls held on April 21.

Established in 2006, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) aims to promote electoral transparency, integrity and fairness in Pakistan through citizen observation and advocacy efforts.

It operates independently, monitoring various aspects of the electoral process, including voter registration, polling procedures and result tabulation to ensure impartial elections in the country.

“Low voter turnout, procedural irregularities and restrictions on independent observation in two provincial constituencies in Punjab overshadowed the improved results management and lower numbers of ballots excluded from the count during April 21 elections in 22 national and provincial assembly constituencies,” FAFEN said in its report on by-elections.

“Polling station establishment, voter identification, and counting at polling stations were observed to have been largely compliant with law and procedures,” it continued. “However, instances of omissions in ballot issuance requirements by Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) were reported from around 14 percent of the observed polling stations.”

FAFEN said while polling agents and accredited observers could generally access voting and counting process, security officials or Presiding Officers barred its observers at 19 polling stations in PP-36 Wazirabad and PP-22 Chakwal-cum-Talagang.

“In PP-22, the accreditation process of FAFEN observers was also delayed until the midday on the polling day causing last-minute changes in the observation scope,” it added.

The report said nearly 36 percent of registered voters cast their votes on polling day, which was nine percent less than the turnout in 18 of these constituencies on February 8.

Votes polled by women decreased by 12 percent, while votes polled by men declined by nine percent, despite an increase of 75,640 registered voters, including 37,684 men and 37,956 women compared to the general elections.

“Lahore’s five constituencies recorded the sharpest decline in the voter turnout with PP-147 reporting a mere 14 percent as against 35 percent on February 8,” it noted. “Similarly, NA-119 Lahore registered a 19 percent turnout against 39 percent on February 8. However, the voter turnout in Gujrat and Khuzdar constituencies recorded an increase compared to general elections.”

FAFEN said it deployed 259 Election-Day observers, including 187 men and 72 women, to observe the voting and counting processes at 1,036 polling stations in five National Assembly and 17 Provincial Assembly constituencies in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

It said that its report was based on the observations received on Election Day from 532 polling stations through FAFEN Election Day Observation mobile application.


US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

Updated 48 min 30 sec ago
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US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

  • State Department statement came as the Iranian president concluded his Pakistan visit to discuss energy and connectivity
  • US also defends its decision to impose sanctions against four international entities supplying missile components to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States warned on Wednesday countries doing business with Iran faced the “potential risk of sanctions,” as President Ebrahim Raisi concluded a three-day visit to Pakistan where his government signed eight memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in different fields and to boost trade to $10 billion.

The Iranian president arrived in Islamabad on Monday as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year. The visit also took place as tensions continued to remain high in the Middle East after Iran launched airstrikes on Israel a week ago and Israel retaliated with its own attack on Friday.

During his stay in Pakistan, Raisi held several official meetings in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to discuss issues related to trade, connectivity, energy and people-to-people contacts.

Asked about his engagements in Pakistan and signing of MoUs, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel cautioned against possible sanctions in a brief response.

“Just let me say broadly, we advise anyone considering business deals with Iran to be aware of the potential risk of sanctions,” he said. “But ultimately, the Government of Pakistan can speak to their own foreign policy pursuits.”

He was also asked about the US administration’s decision to announce sanctions against three Chinese and one Belarus-based entity supplying missile components to Pakistan last week.

“The sanctions were made because these were entities that were proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery,” Patel said. “These were entities based in the PRC [Peoples Republic of China], in Belarus, and that we have witnessed to have supplied equipment and other applicable items to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program.”

“We’re going to continue to disrupt and take actions against proliferation networks and concerning weapons of mass destruction procurement activities wherever they may occur,” he added.


Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development

Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development

  • Agreements were signed during meeting of Chinese International Development Cooperation Agency officials with PM Sharif
  • Pakistan PM commended CIDCA for its vital support during 2022 floods that killed 1,739 people, caused $30 bln losses

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China on Tuesday signed multiple memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that focused on flood rehabilitation, information and communication technologies, and development, Pakistani state media reported.

The agreements were signed during a meeting between a high-level delegation of the Chinese International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), led by Luo Zhaohui, and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad.

The MoUs pertained to flood rehabilitation, information and communication technologies, Juncao technology to address soil erosion and desertification, and China-Pakistan Development Cooperation Planning (2024-2028).

“Welcoming the delegation, the Prime Minister said China is Pakistan’s most trusted friend and appreciated China’s steadfast support to Pakistan,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“Acknowledging CIDCA’s pivotal role in bolstering Pakistan’s economic development, the Prime Minister specifically commended CIDCA for its vital support during the 2022 floods and for its relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts in Pakistan.”

In 2022, downpours swelled rivers and at one point flooded a third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. The floods also caused $30 billion in damages, from which Pakistan is still trying to rebuild.

The prime minister witnessed the signing of agreements alongside a Letter of Exchange on the establishment of a First Aid Center in Balochistan and Protocol on Cooperation in Human Resources Development under the Global Development Initiative.

“These agreements signify the deepening cooperation between Pakistan and China across various sectors,” the report read.

The meeting was also attended by China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong, members of PM Sharif’s cabinet and senior officials of Pakistan.

Beijing has been one of Islamabad’s most reliable foreign partners in recent years, readily providing financial assistance to bail out its often-struggling neighbor.

In July last year, China granted Pakistan a two-year rollover on a $2.4 billion loan, giving the debt-saddled nation much-needed breathing space as it tackled a balance-of-payments crisis.

China has inked more than two trillion dollars in contracts around the world under its Belt and Road investment scheme, with billions pouring into infrastructure projects in Pakistan.


Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military

Updated 23 April 2024
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Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military

  • The militants were killed in an intelligence-based operation in the Pishin district of Balochistan
  • Military says one militant apprehended in injured condition was identified as an Afghan national

ISLAMABAD: Three militants were killed and another was injured in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday.

The shootout took place during an intelligence-based operation in the Pishin district of Balochistan, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing.

The militants were killed after intense exchange of fire during the conduct of operation.

“One terrorist was apprehended in injured condition, who has been identified as an Afghan national,” the ISPR said in a statement.

“A huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives was also recovered during the operation.”

Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, is the site of a long-running insurgency by separatists and religiously motivated militants, who have recently carried out a number of attacks in the region.

Gunmen this month killed nine people, who hailed from the eastern Punjab province, after abducting them from a bus on a highway near the Noshki district. The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Although the government says it has quelled militancy, violence by various groups has persisted in the region.

Last year, Islamabad also set a November deadline for all undocumented migrants, mostly Afghans, to leave or face arrest, forcing more than 500,000 Afghans to flee Pakistan.

Pakistan defended the crackdown by pointing to security concerns and is expected to begin a renewed push to deport more Afghan nationals in the coming weeks, according to officials.


At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative

Updated 23 April 2024
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At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative

  • The Pakistani IT exports surged by $49 million in the last month from $257 million recorded in Feb.
  • Representative calls the achievement a result of hard work of all stakeholders and favorable policies

KARACHI: Pakistan recorded highest ever single-month exports in the field of information technology (IT) in March, chairman of the country’s software houses association said on Tuesday.

The Pakistani IT exports surged by $49 million in the last month from $257 million recorded in the month of February, according to Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA).

The exports, which stood at $225 million in March 2023, recorded an increase of 36 percent on a year-on-year basis.

“Crossing $300 million in a single month makes the IT industry second to only textiles in Pakistan,” Zohaib Khan, the P@SHA chairman, said in a statement.

“It is pertinent to note that IT exports for the month of March 2024 is also the highest exports of the industry in a single month in the country’s history.”

Khan said this achievement was a result of hard work of all stakeholders and favorable government policies over the past several months.

“All we need is policy continuity coupled with new initiatives vis-a-vis skills development and branding of the IT sector on a global-scale for the country’s soft-image,” he said, urging the country’s finance and revenue authorities to give due consideration and incorporation to their budgetary proposals that had already been submitted at concerned forums. 

The P@SHA Chief reiterated the IT industry would fully support the initiatives of the Pakistani IT ministry in achieving the export target of $3.5 billion for the outgoing fiscal year, which ends in June.

“We should aim for $5 billion for the forthcoming fiscal year, i.e. FY25,” he added.