X working with Pakistan to ‘understand concerns’ over ban

In this photo illustration a man tries to access the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on his phone at a market in Islamabad on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 18 April 2024
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X working with Pakistan to ‘understand concerns’ over ban

  • X has been rarely accessible since Feb. 17, when jailed ex-PM Khan’s party called for protests over poll results
  • Interior Ministry said X was blocked on security grounds, according to report submitted to Islamabad High Court

ISLAMABAD: Social media platform X said Thursday it would work with Pakistan’s government “to understand its concerns” after authorities insisted an ongoing two-month ban was based on security grounds.

The platform, formerly known as Twitter, has been rarely accessible since February 17, when jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s party called for protests following a government official’s admission of vote manipulation in the February election.

“We continue to work with the Pakistani Government to understand their concerns,” X’s Global Government Affairs team posted, in their first comments since the site was disrupted.

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday said X was blocked on security grounds, according to a report submitted to the Islamabad High Court where one of several challenges to the ban is being heard.

On the same day, the Sindh High Court ordered the government to restore access to social media platform X within a week.

“The Sindh High Court has given the government one week to withdraw the letter, failing which, on the next date, they will pass appropriate orders,” Moiz Jaaferi, a lawyer challenging the ban, told AFP.

The court’s full decision is expected to be published this week.

Both the government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had for weeks refused to comment on the outages.

“It is the sole prerogative and domain of the federal government to decide what falls within the preview of terms of ‘defense’ or ‘security’ of Pakistan and what steps are necessary to be taken to safeguard National Security,” said the interior ministry’s report, submitted by senior official Khurram Agha.

The interior ministry suggested intelligence agencies were behind the order.

The closure of a social media service “when there is request from any security or intelligence agency” is “well within the scope of provisions of the PTA act,” the report said.

Digital rights activists, however, said it was designed to quash dissent after February 8 polls that were fraught with claims of rigging.

Access to X has been sporadic, occasionally available for short cycles based on the Internet service provider, forcing users to use virtual private networks.

Mobile services were cut across Pakistan on election day, with the interior ministry also citing security reasons.

It was followed by a long delay in issuing voting results, giving rise to allegations of tampering.

Khan’s opposition party had already faced heavy censorship in the weeks before the election, banned from television channels and from holding rallies, forcing its campaign online.

Despite the crackdown, his party won the most seats but was kept from power by a coalition of rival parties that had the backing of the military.


Pakistani city of Peshawar hints at ‘complete ban’ on e-cigarettes, vapes

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Pakistani city of Peshawar hints at ‘complete ban’ on e-cigarettes, vapes

  • Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government bans public vaping in Peshawar district for 60 days
  • Sale of e-cigarettes prohibited within 100 meters of educational, health facilities 

PESHAWAR: Hinting at a complete ban on vaping devices, Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has imposed interim measures prohibiting the public use of e-cigarettes, vapes and nicotine products in Peshawar district for 60 days, according to a notification issued earlier this month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists e-cigarettes as harmful and while their long-term health effects are not fully known, they do generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.

“It is requested to order the following interim measures till the complete ban on e-cigarettes, vapes, and nicotine pouches by the KP government to safeguard the health of people from the devastating impact to the extent of Peshawar,” the city’s deputy commissioner said in a notification dated June 13. 

“This order shall come into force forthwith and shall remain enforced for 60 days unless modified or withdrawn.”

The interim measures include a ban on the usage, advertisement and sale of e-cigarettes, vapes and nicotine pouches in public places and on public transport. Additionally, nicotine products cannot be sold within 100 meters of any education or health facility or parks. The sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21 has also been banned. 

The notification said violators of the order would be punished under Section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which relates to disobedience of orders promulgated by a public servant.

In 2019, the US reported 18 deaths due to a mysterious lung illness linked to e-cigarettes.

The WHO says high quality epidemiology studies consistently demonstrate that e-cigarette use increases conventional cigarette uptake, particularly among non-smoking youth, by nearly 3 times. 

“Evidence reveals that these products are harmful to health and are not safe. However, it is too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of using them or being exposed to them,” according to the WHO website. 

Besides causing cancer and increasing the risk of heart and lung disorders, electronic delivery systems have also been linked to a number of physical injuries, including burns from explosions or malfunctions, when the products are not of the expected standard or are tampered with by users, the WHO says. 


Over 620,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

Updated 58 min 38 sec ago
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Over 620,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

  • Almost 14,000 Afghan nationals repatriated in last ten days
  • These included 5,014 men, 4,087 women and 4,714 children

ISLAMABAD: A deportation drive targeting illegal foreigners living in Pakistan is continuing, with more than 13,000 Afghan nationals expelled over the last ten days, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said on Saturday, bringing the total number of Afghans deported to over 620,000.

The government launched a deportation drive last year after a spike in suicide bombings which the Pakistan government, without providing evidence, has blamed on Afghan nationals. Islamabad also says Afghans are involved in smuggling, militant violence and other crimes. 

A cash-strapped Pakistan navigating record inflation, alongside a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program last year, had also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.

“Repatriation of illegal Afghan nationals continues and so far, 620,981 Afghans have returned to their country,” Radio Pakistan said in its tally on Saturday. 

“Between 11th to 21st of this month [June], total 13,815 Afghans returned to their country including 5,014 men, 4,087 women and 4,714 children.”

Until the government initiated the expulsion drive last year, Pakistan was home to over four million Afghan migrants and refugees, of which around 1.7 million were undocumented, as per government figures. 

Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Islamabad insists the deportation drive is not aimed specifically at Afghans but at all those living illegally in Pakistan.

In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan” with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” aliens to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million Afghan refugees at risk.

In phase two of the “repatriation plan,” around 600,00 Afghans who held Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs) will be expelled while phase three is expected to target those with UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.

In April, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) issued a notification validating the extension of the PoR card till June 30 this year.

Before the deportation drive, people used to daily cross the Pak-Afghan border back and forth for business and personal purposes.

The drive has led to a spike in tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The Taliban deny militants are using Afghan soil to launch attacks, calling Pakistan’s security challenges a domestic issue.


Pakistan urges UNSC to compel Afghan Taliban to sever links with TTP

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan urges UNSC to compel Afghan Taliban to sever links with TTP

  • Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to UN calls on UNSC to prevent TTP from carrying out cross-border attacks 
  • Kabul says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Munir Akram, has urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to compel Taliban authorities in Afghanistan to sever ties with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and prevent cross-border attacks carried out by the group, state media reported on Saturday.

Islamabad blames the surge in attacks on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Kabul says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.

The TTP pledges allegiance to, and gets its name from, the Afghan Taliban, but is not directly a part of the group that now rules Afghanistan. Its stated aim is to impose Islamic religious law in Pakistan, as the Taliban have done in Afghanistan.

“I urge the UNSC to call on the Taliban government to sever its links with the TTP and its associates, prevent them from carrying out cross-border attacks against Pakistan, disarm the TTP terrorists, capture their leadership and hand them over to Pakistan,” the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) quoted Akram as saying in an address to the 15-member council to which the South Asian state was recently elected as a non-permanent member.

“The impunity which some of these terrorist groups seem to enjoy within Afghanistan poses a dire and direct threat to all of Afghanistan’s neighbors as well as to the international community.”

Akram said the Taliban government did not act “decisively” to halt the TTP’s militant activities despite assurances.

“The highest priority – for the international community, for Afghanistan’s neighbors and for Afghanistan itself – remains the elimination of terrorism within and from Afghanistan,” the envoy added. 

The TTP is responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan, including on churches, schools and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who survived the 2012 attack after she was targeted for her campaign against the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education.

Pakistani forces were able to effectively dismantle the TTP and kill most of its top leadership in a string of military operations from 2014 onwards in the tribal areas, driving most of the fighters into neighboring Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped.


Pakistan reviews measures to protect Chinese workers as visiting dignitary raises concerns

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan reviews measures to protect Chinese workers as visiting dignitary raises concerns

  • Liu Jianchao, a prominent Chinese minister, said this week Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining investor confidence
  • Killing of five Chinese nationals in suicide bombing in March has put the spotlight on the security of Chinese workers in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi held a meeting on Saturday to review security measures for foreigners in Pakistan, particularly Chinese workers who have been the target of several recent militant attacks.

The killing of five Chinese nationals in a suicide bombing on their convoy in northwest Pakistan on March 26 has put the spotlight on the security of Chinese workers, many of whom work on road, infrastructure and development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship of the Belt and Road scheme.

During a visit to Islamabad on Friday, Liu Jianchao, a prominent Chinese minister, said Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining investor confidence. The following day, Saturday, the Pakistani interior minister chaired a meeting to review the “overall security situation in the country.”

“The meeting reviewed the measures taken to protect foreigners, especially Chinese citizens,” the interior ministry said in a statement. “Naqvi directed strict adherence to the SOPs of the security plan … emphasized that the formulated plan should be regularly monitored at every level.”

The minister called on relevant security and intelligence agencies to keep “close coordination to thwart the nefarious designs of anti-national elements.”

“There is no room for negligence in the implementation of the security plan,” the statement quoted Naqvi as saying.

Addressing the 3rd Meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM) in Islamabad on Friday, Liu said security threats were the “main hazards” to CPEC cooperation. 

“As people often say, confidence is more precious than gold. In the case of Pakistan, the primary factor shaking the confidence of Chinese investors is the security situation,” the official said in rare public comments by Beijing on Pakistan’s security challenges. “Without security, the business environment cannot really improve.”

The March 26 attack on the Chinese convoy en route to a hydropower project in Dasu was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests in Pakistan, where Beijing has pledged over $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative.

The Mar. 26 bombing followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, including the deep-sea port of Gwadar, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.

Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.

Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.

Chinese interests are mostly under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan.


Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

  • Pakistan’s first human milk bank was set up earlier this month by Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology
  • Facility was established in collaboration with UNICEF, described as “significant milestone in maternal health”

ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) said this week Pakistan’s first human milk bank established earlier this month had been suspended pending further guidance from the Council of Islamic Ideology.

A human milk bank, breast milk bank or lactarium is a service that collects, screens, processes, pasteurizes, and dispenses by prescription human milk donated by nursing mothers who are not biologically related to the recipient infant. For women who are unable to breastfeed or produce enough milk, pasteurized donor breast milk can be an effective approach to feeding.

SICHN earlier this month announced its human milk bank facility, Pakistan’s first, established in collaboration with UNICEF, describing it as a “significant milestone in maternal health.”

“A recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi dated 16ht June 2024 has prompted us to discontinue the functionality of the Human Milk Bank. This decision is in compliance with the updated religious guidance and reflects our ongoing commitment to operate within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence,” SICHN said in a statement dated June 21. 

“Moving forward, we will seek further guidance on this issue from both Darul Uloom Karachi and the Council of Islamic Ideology,” the statement added, referring to a religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam.

SICHN said the milk bank was initially set up after seeking and receiving a fatwa from the Darul Uloom Karachi, “which provided us with the necessary religious endorsement to proceed.” 

“This fatwa was critical in ensuring that our efforts were in harmony with Islamic teachings, providing reassurance to the community and stakeholders involved,” the institute said. 

The fatwa cited certain pre-conditions to establish the milk bank including that Muslim children should only be provided milk from Muslim mothers.

Iran is currently believed to be the only country in the Muslim world with a network of milk banks. In general, Islam makes the practice tricky. The opposition centers on a tenet called milk kinship, which states that a parent-child bond is formed when a woman gives milk to a baby who isn’t biologically related to her. 

To avoid future incestuous marriages between so-called milk siblings, the tenet says, the foster relationship must be clearly delineated. Since milk bank donors are typically anonymous and the donations are often combined, the practice is rejected in most of the Muslim world.