Pakistan says no basis for US objection to construction of Iran gas pipeline

Irani workers work on a section of a pipeline on March 11, 2013 at the Iranian border city of Chah Bahar. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 March 2024
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Pakistan says no basis for US objection to construction of Iran gas pipeline

  • On February 23, the Pakistani cabinet approved the construction of an 80-kilometer segment of the gas pipeline
  • $7.5-billion project has faced repeated delays since it was conceived in 1990s to connect Iran to Pakistan and India

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Thursday it had decided to initiate work on an 80-kilometer-long segment of the Pakistan-Iran pipeline, with “no room for any objections” from a third party like the United States since the project was being constructed within Pakistani territory.

The $7.5-billion project for 2,775-kilometer (1,724 mi) pipeline has faced repeated delays since it was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to consumers in energy-hungry Pakistan and India.

Pakistan has pursued the pipeline as a way of alleviating severe energy shortages that have crippled the economy. At the same time, Islamabad badly needs the billions of dollars it receives in aid from the United States, which has steadfastly opposed the project, saying it could violate sanctions imposed on Iran over nuclear activities Washington suspects are aimed at developing an atom bomb. Iran denies this.

On February 23, Pakistan approved construction of part of the pipeline amid fears of a potential $18 billion penalty for failing to complete the project on time.

“The cabinet of Pakistan decided, a few days ago, to start work on 80 kilometers of Pakistan-Iran pipeline, and this is the beginning of construction of the pipeline and it is in conformity with our commitment to the Iran-Pakistan pipeline,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, foreign office spokesperson, said at a weekly briefing on Thursday, in response to a question on whether Islamabad had contacted Washington on the decision to begin constructing the pipeline.

“And since this pipeline is being constructed inside Pakistani territory, we do not believe there is room for any objections by any third party at this stage.”

India, unlike Pakistan, quit the project in 2009, citing costs and security issues — a year after it signed a nuclear deal with Washington.

Pakistan, for its part, has made little progress on its section of the line for lack of funds and warnings it could be in violation of US sanctions on Iran, which sits on the world’s largest reserves of gas. Iran has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and nearly completed the 900-km (560 mile) pipeline to the Pakistan border.

WAR IN GAZA

Speaking on the situation in Gaza, Baloch said Pakistan welcomed the extraordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) held on Wednesday in Jeddah, and supported CFM’s “strong condemnation” of Israeli aggression against civilians in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Territory.

Israel has killed over 30,000 Palestinian men, women, and children since October 2023, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, while over 72,100 Palestinians have been injured in the war, which Israel refuses to call off despite growing calls from Muslim states, the United Nations, and global peace activists.

“The CFM has held the occupying power fully responsible for the ongoing genocide of civilians in Gaza and we join their call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and cessation of Israeli aggression and the provision of unimpeded and adequate humanitarian, medical, and relief programs,” the spokesperson said, adding that Pakistan had also called for the provision of water and electricity and the opening of humanitarian corridors to deliver urgent aid.

“As we move toward the holy month of Ramadan, we call for urgent relief to the people of Palestine and unrestricted access to Palestinians to pray in the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque,” she added.

Baloch said Pakistan believed that the UN Security Council was mandated under the UN Charter to play its role in bringing an end to Israeli aggression. 

“We have been engaged with all members of the United Nations Security Council and we have urged them to play their part in bringing an end to this atrocity,” she added.

The spokesperson said the main hurdle in the provision of assistance was Israeli authorities who had closed the normal routes for the provision of assistance, including the Rafah border.

Baloch said Pakistan has sent six shipments of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, five of them through the Rafah border and one which was airdropped with the help of Jordanian authorities. 

“Our assistance has been in the form of medicines, tents, and food,” she added.


Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

Updated 5 sec ago
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Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

  • PPP’s Aseefa Bhutto says Pakistani people deserve a better budget, urges the government to provide relief to poor
  • Information minister says opposition has not prepared shadow budget, is criticizing government without justification

ISLAMABAD: The coalition partners of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration and the opposition parties on Sunday criticized the budget for the next fiscal year (FY25) while offering suggestions to improve it to provide relief to the public.
The National Assembly of Pakistan kicked off debate on the federal budget on Thursday, as the government hopes for its passage this week.
During the discussions, both the opposition lawmakers and members of the government’s allied parties slammed the budget while asking the Sharif administration to review the taxes imposed on the salaried class, food items and other sectors.
Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) in the budget, which was presented on June 12 by Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Muhammad Aurangzeb.
“Do you think this is the budget the people of Pakistan deserve,” Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker and daughter of the slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, said while participating in the debate. “The people of Pakistan deserve better.”
She urged the government to provide relief to the public.
“Together we have to find way to give relief to the people who are suffering 15 hours a day without electricity in this sweltering heat,” she added.
The PPP leader also asked the government to support farmers battered by storms, floods and recent controversial decisions related to wheat import.
“We must find ways to help the blue-collar workers who have no job security,” she said. “We must find ways to develop our human capital. We must find ways to provide relief directly to the poorest of the poor of this country.”
Another senior PPP lawmaker Khurshid Shah termed the budget “difficult” that would increase burden on the public.
He suggested the government to work on population control to save resources and provide education, health, clean drinking water and other facilities to people.
“The government should offer incentives to the public to bring down the population number,” he added.
Opposition lawmaker from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Shahida Begum said no relief was provided to the public in the budget, criticizing the government’ spending and lack of transparency related to the utilization of public funds.
“The government should reduce income tax and try to broaden the tax base to collect more revenue,” she said.
Sunni Ittehad Council’s Ali Muhammad Khan emphasized the idea of abolishing interest to strengthen the national economy.
“If we abolish interest, then all budgets would be for the prosperity and progress of the country and the nation,” he said.
Responding to all the criticism, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said the opposition had not bothered to prepare even a shadow budget and was only criticizing the government without justification.
He pointed out the government had increased the salaries of public servants along with the minimum wage level and reduced tariff for industrial electricity.
“Everyone is resorting to criticism, but no one talks about the budget,” he said.
“Pakistan’s friendly countries want to invest here which is in their [opposition’s] interest and ours as well,” he continued. “We have to make Pakistan a peaceful country for trade and investments.”


Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

Updated 6 min 13 sec ago
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Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

  • Times Square in New York is recognized as one of the world’s most heavily trafficked places
  • Dhai, who hails from Pakistan’s Sindh province, has a string of hits to her name such as “Kaid Ao Ni”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai was recently featured on the iconic Times Square billboard in New York city, making her the latest celebrity from the country to be advertised at the prestigious location. 

Times Square, situated at the heart of New York City, is renowned for its iconic digital billboards and advertisements which showcase images of celebrities and a wide array of prominent brands. It is recognized as one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world. 

Dhai, a septuagenarian singer who hails from Pakistan’s southern Tharparkar district famous for its desert landscape and cultural diversity, belongs to the Manganhar Muslim community. The Manganhars are a famous community of singers that reside in the Tharparkar district in Pakistan and Rajasthan state in India, both areas connected via the shared border between the two countries. 

“A voice like that of the cuckoo reaches Times Square directly,” Spotify Pakistan posted on Instagram on Saturday, sharing a picture of Dhai at a vertical billboard on Times Square. “Listen to Mai Dhai on the #EQUALPAKISTAN playlist.”

The Equal Pakistan initiative by Spotify aims to promote both established and aspiring female artists, recognizing their talent and contributions to the music industry in the country. 

Dhai garnered critical acclaim after performing in a string of popular Pakistani musical festivals. However, she shot to fame across Pakistan in 2016 after debuting in Coke Studio’s season 8 with her two songs, “Aankhaṛli Phaṛookai” and “Kadi Ao Ni with artists Karam Abbas Khan and Atif Aslam garnering critical acclaim. 

In October 2023, Pakistani musician-singer Talal Qureshi was also featured on a Spotify billboard at Times Square, when the music platform and streaming app promoted Qureshi’s 2023 album “Turbo” on the billboard. 

Qureshi, celebrated for his seamless fusion of traditional Pakistani music with modern electronic sounds, is known for popular hits such as “Peechay Hut,” “Hico,” “Faltu Pyar” and “Paisa.”


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

Updated 24 June 2024
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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.