Pakistan mulls engaging international law firm to seek US waivers for Iran gas pipeline — official

An Iranian worker stands in front of a section of a pipeline after the project was launched during a ceremony with presidents of Iran and Pakistan on March 11, 2013 in the Iranian border city of Chah Bahar. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 March 2024
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Pakistan mulls engaging international law firm to seek US waivers for Iran gas pipeline — official

  • Failed to complete project may force Pakistan to pay a daily penalty of $1 million to Iran starting from January 1, 2015 under the deal
  • Economists say the gas pipeline will help save precious foreign exchange being spent on LNG import, provide cheaper gas to consumers

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government is considering to engage an international law firm to explore options to seek the United States (US) sanction waivers to complete a natural gas pipeline project from neighboring Iran, a Pakistani government official said on Tuesday.

The development comes days after US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu told a Congressional hearing that President Joe Biden’s administration was working to prevent the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which the two countries agreed to in 2009.

However, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government is planning to convince the US administration through “logical reasons” to secure waivers to complete the project which was essential to fulfil Pakistan’s energy needs.

“We are exploring different options at the moment to see as to how Pakistan could complete the project without facing US sanctions,” an official of the Pakistani energy ministry, who requested anonymity, told Arab News.

“One of the options is to hire an international legal firm like we did in the past to come up with a cogent plan to avoid US sanctions on the project.”

In July 2019, Pakistan hired a French law firm, Gide Loyrette Nouel, to deal with Iranian threat of moving an international court against Islamabad for its failure to execute the project and to find out a way if the project could be completed without attracting US sanctions.

Under an agreement signed between the two countries in 2009, the project was to be completed by December 2014 and would deliver 21.5 million cubic meters (760,000 million cubic feet) of gas per day to Pakistan. It was to be constructed using a segmented approach, with both countries laying down the pipeline on their respective sides of the border.

“Nothing is finalized yet as different legal and diplomatic options are on the cards to go ahead with the project,” the official said. “Definitely, we will be taking this up with the US citing some logical reasons for the project’s importance to Pakistan.”

The project is expected to boost Pakistan’s energy security and strengthen the local industry that can be assured a sustainable and enhanced gas supply. The construction of the pipeline is also expected to catalyze economic activity in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.

Syed Atif Zafar, chief economist at the Karachi-based Topline Securities brokerage firm, said Pakistan would get relatively cheaper gas as compared to the imported Liquefied natural gas (LNG), if the project was completed.

“The energy shortages would improve besides saving some foreign exchange that we are currently spending on the LNG import,” he told Arab News.

Zafar said if Pakistan failed to complete the project, it would have to pay a daily penalty of $1 million to Iran starting from January 1, 2015 under a penalty clause of the bilateral agreement.

“Pakistan cannot afford this penalty in any way, so we will have to find out a way to complete the project,” he added.

Tahir Abbas, head of research at the Arif Habib Limited securities and brokerage firm, said Pakistan’s total gas demand was around 6,000 million standard cubic feet per day (mmcfd), while the local production was just 3,300 mmcfd, and the country was importing around 1,000 mmcfd of LNG to meet its demand.

“We have been purchasing the LNG at around $12 per mmbtu and if Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is completed, we can get the gas at around $8 per mmbtu,” Abbas told Arab News.

“The IP project will help us save a lot of precious foreign exchange, besides supplying cheaper gas to industrial and residential consumers.”


Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.


Two more flights bring over 300 Pakistanis home from Bishkek days after mob attacks

Updated 21 May 2024
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Two more flights bring over 300 Pakistanis home from Bishkek days after mob attacks

  • Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities, lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week
  • Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and over 1,000 Pakistani students have returned home

ISLAMABAD: More than 300 Pakistanis returned home on Tuesday from Bishkek via two Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights, the PIA said, days after mob attacks on foreign students in the Kyrgyz capital.
Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek on May 17 after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media. The attacks raised concerns about safety of students from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other countries.
Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 1,000 Pakistani students have returned home via 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.
On Tuesday, a group of 167 students arrived in Islamabad from Bishkek via a PIA flight, while another flight carrying 169 students landed in the eastern city of Lahore where they were received by PIA Deputy General Manager Athar Hassan and Station Manager Ashfaq Awan, according to the PIA.
“The national airline always stands by its compatriots in times of trouble,” a PIA spokesperson said in a statement. “Additional flights will also be operated as per government guidelines and as per requirement.”
The development came a day after Pakistan Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar met Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev in Astana, Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers.
Dar told his Kyrgyz counterpart that Pakistan’s main concern was the well-being of its nationals, especially the students who were primarily affected by last week’s violence, according to Pakistani state media.
Kulubaev said the Kyrgyz government had 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.


Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply agreement between Saudi Aramco, GO Petroleum

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply agreement between Saudi Aramco, GO Petroleum

  • Under the agreement, Aramco will meet GO Petroleum’s petrol, diesel demand for its outlets in Pakistan
  • Pakistan last month approved the Saudi oil giant’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in GO Petroleum

KARACHI: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has granted a time-bound exemption on relevant clauses of a product supply agreement between Saudi oil giant Aramco and Gas & Oil Pakistan Ltd. (GO Petroleum) for the import and sale of petrol and diesel products to Pakistan, the CCP said on Tuesday.
Aramco Trading Company (ATC) Fujairah FZE Ltd. is one of the world’s largest integrated energy and chemicals companies, while GO Petroleum is an oil-marketing company (OMC) registered in Pakistan that operates a network of retail outlets across the country that sell petrol, diesel and lubricants.
Under the agreement, ATC Fujairah intends to meet GO Petroleum’s demand for essential petroleum products for its outlets, which primarily includes petrol and diesel.
“The parties submitted to the CCP that this arrangement is expected to achieve economies of scale in procurement for GO Petroleum, potentially resulting in better prices for Pakistani consumers,” the CCP said in a statement.
“The exemption sought was on exclusivity aspects of the commercial agreement to supply 100 percent demand of imported products for GO Petroleum’s retail outlets. The CCP has accordingly granted exemption on the product supply agreement with certain conditions included therein.”
The CCP grants exemptions pursuant to Section 9 of the Competition Act, 2010, ensuring that such exemptions have economic benefits that outweigh anti-competitive effects.
“The CCP’s conditions stipulate that both parties must refrain from engaging in anti-competitive activities. Importantly, the exemption does not include approval on any pricing terms and mechanisms related to the products,” the CCP statement read.
“Additionally, as the agreement has referred to certain off specification products, however approval of concerned sector regulator should be ensured for import and sales. The applicants have also been directed to ensure required approvals on their terminals and storage facilities by relevant authorities to be used in the execution of this agreement.”
Subject to the conditions, the CCP said, it had granted the exemption until June 2026 and both applicants could approach it for an extension with required details and also identifying the benefits that have accrued to the improved distribution network of petroleum products and enhanced competition in the market.
Last month, the CCP approved Saudi oil giant Aramco’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in Go Petroleum, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuels retail market.
The CCP said it had authorized the merger after determining the acquisition would not result in the acquirers’ “dominance” in the relevant market post-transaction. The acquisition would help bring much-needed foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, contributing to economic growth and development of the country, it added.
In February 2019, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia inked investment deals totaling $21 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. The agreements included about $10 billion for an Aramco oil refinery and $1 billion for a petrochemical complex at the strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan.
Both countries have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the Kingdom recently reaffirmed its commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.


Pakistan’s Sirbaz Khan scales Mt Everest without supplementary oxygen

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan’s Sirbaz Khan scales Mt Everest without supplementary oxygen

  • Khan is the first Pakistani to summit 11 out of 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ without using supplementary oxygen
  • He was part of ‘Imagine Nepal 2024 Everest Expedition,’ which included 14 international climbers, 18 sherpas

KHAPLU, GILGIT-BALTISTAN: Pakistani mountaineer Sirbaz Khan on Tuesday achieved another milestone by successfully scaling the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, without supplementary oxygen, Pakistani and Nepalese expedition organizers said.
Born and raised in Ali Abad village in Pakistan’s mountainous Hunza district, Khan has previously summited 13 of the 14 peaks in the world above the height of 8,000 meters, including K2.
He was part of the ‘Imagine Nepal 2024 Everest Expedition’ team, which included 14 international climbers and 18 sherpas who reached the 8,849-meter-high summit on Tuesday morning, according to the Imagine Nepal tour company and the Alpine Club of Pakistan.
“Congratulations to Sirbaz Khan on successfully summiting Mount Everest 8,848.86 meters (29,031.69 feet) without the use of supplemental oxygen,” Karrar Haidri, secretary-general of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, said in a statement.
The team of 14 international climbers and 18 sherpas summitted Everest in “various hours between NPT 5:15 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. on the morning of 21 May 2024,” the Imagine Nepal tour company said in a Facebook post.
Khan’s family celebrated the feat in Pakistan, according to his younger brother, Shahbaz Khan.
“We are very happy because today Sirbaz summited Everest without supplementary oxygen. We are celebrating this moment and especially our mother is very excited. There is an environment of festivity at our home,” Shahbaz told Arab News over the phone.
“Whenever he [Sirbaz] starts his summit push, we offer special prayers for him. Because you know, we can’t trust the mountains. However, when he summits, we celebrate. Now we are also offering prayers for his safe descent.”
Khan planned to summit the 8,027-meter Shishapangma peak — the last of the 14 peaks above 8,000 meters — but had to delay the expedition as China did not open the mountain to international climbers, according to his brother.
He also climbed Everest in 2021 and is the first Pakistani to climb 11 out of 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ without oxygen support. Khan had summitted only Annapurna and Kangchenjunga peaks using oxygen support.
“Congratulations @sirbazkhan_mission14 for climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen and a personal sherpa. He is now the only Pakistani to climb 11 peaks without Oxygen,” Naila Kiani, a Pakistani woman climber, said in an Instagram post.
“Sirbaz is the second [Pakistani after] Sajid Ali Sadpara to climb Everest without O2, following our younger brother @sajidalisadpara, who climbed it last year. Sirbaz is also the only Pakistani to climb Everest twice. Climbing Everest without oxygen is a true test of human grit. Congratulations, Ustad.”


PTI leader Raoof Hassan injured in attack outside private news channel office in Islamabad

Updated 38 min 38 sec ago
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PTI leader Raoof Hassan injured in attack outside private news channel office in Islamabad

  • PTI calls the attack ‘very shameful and reprehensible,’ demanding full inquiry into the incident
  • CCTV footage shows Hassan was attacked by transgender persons who wielded a sharp blade

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Tuesday one of its senior leaders, Raoof Hassan, was injured in an attack after he arrived at the office of a private news channel in Islamabad.
Hassan, who has served as the PTI spokesperson, gained political prominence following a crackdown on the party after the May 9 riots, which erupted in the wake of Khan’s brief detention on corruption charges.
The crackdown resulted in the incarceration of top PTI leadership, many of whom continue to remain behind bars. Despite these circumstances, Hassan was vocal, addressing news conferences and passionately advocating for his party’s position.
“Very shameful and reprehensible,” the PTI said in a social media post after the attack. “Central Information Secretary Rauf Hassan attacked by unknown persons outside the office of a private channel.”

The party also shared Hassan’s video in which one can see blood coming out of his face as he walks into a building.
CCTV footage aired by Geo TV captured the incident involving a group of five or six transgender individuals who surrounded and attacked Hassan, slapping him and knocking him to the ground.
The motivation for the attack remains unclear, but PTI’s Shibli Faraz called for a full inquiry into the incident while addressing an ongoing Senate session.
“This is not coincidental,” he said. “These transgender people also attacked a journalist in the past.”
Islamabad police also confirmed that Hassan was attacked by transgender people, with one of them inflicting a gash on his face with a sharp blade.