Iranian president visits Lahore, Karachi on three-day Pakistan visit

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Chief Minister Punjab Maryam Nawaz (right) meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Lahore, Pakistan on April 23, 2024. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is received by Murad Ali Shah, the Chief Minister of Sindh province upon his arrival in Karachi on April 23, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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Updated 23 April 2024

Iranian president visits Lahore, Karachi on three-day Pakistan visit

  • President Ebrahim Raisi met provincial chief executives, other officials and dignitaries during the visits
  • Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday on an official visit as two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties

KARACHI: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday held meetings with top officials in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province as he arrived in the seaside metropolis of Karachi, following his visit to the eastern city of Lahore during three-day official tour of Pakistan.

Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday on a three-day official visit to Pakistan as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year. The visit also comes as tensions are high in the Middle East after Iran launched airstrikes on Israel a week ago and Israel retaliated with its own attack on Friday.

Upon arrival at the Karachi airport, the Iranian president received a warm welcome from Sindh Governor Kamran Tessori and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. He was subsequently escorted to the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, where he paid homage to the founder of Pakistan. Stringent security measures were in place, with main thoroughfare closed and a public holiday declared in the port city.

Commuters ride past a welcoming billboard displaying an image of the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi along a street in Karachi on April 22, 2024. (AFP)

Later, a reception was hosted in Raisi’s honor at the Sindh Chief Minister’s House, where Governor Tessori conferred upon him an honorary Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD) degree in recognition of his contributions to “strengthening bilateral ties between the two nations.”

“It’s a privilege for the University of Karachi to bestow this honorary degree upon the Iranian president,” Tessori was quoted as saying in a press statement.

He emphasized the importance of fostering strong relations among Muslim nations, according to the statement. The governor also invited the Iranian business community to invest in Pakistan, highlighting “the favorable and business-friendly environment within the country.”

Emphasizing the importance of enhancing relations between the two countries, CM Murad Ali Shah assured President Raisi of Sindh’s commitment to strengthening educational, cultural, social and economic ties with Iran.

“Murad Shah concluded by inviting Iranian brothers and sisters to explore investment opportunities in Sindh, emphasizing the region’s safe and attractive investment environment,” read a statement issued by Shah’s office.

Later, a dinner was hosted for President Raisi by the Pakistani business community.

Earlier in the day, Raisi visited the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore and began his trip by visiting the mausoleum of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, whose literary works in the Persian language have garnered him widespread recognition in Iran.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visits Iqbal's Mausoleum in Lahore and lays a wreath in honor of the renowned poet and philosopher of Pakistan on April 23, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

He later met top provincial officials, including Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz and Governor Baligh-ur-Rehman. In his meeting with CM Nawaz, the two figures reaffirmed commitment to enhancing cultural exchanges and fostering people-to-people contacts, according to a statement issued from the Punjab CM’s office.

“The Chief Minister explained the measures taken in the province for socio-economic development and expressed a desire for close engagement with Iranian cities and provinces for mutual benefit and prosperity,” it read.

“President Raisi appreciated the rich cultural history of the city of Lahore and expressed admiration for the poet of the East, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, who is revered in Iran as ‘Iqbal-e-Lahori’.”

The Iranian official’s visit is the first by any head of state to Pakistan after the South Asian nation’s February general elections and the formation of a new government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

On Monday, Raisi held delegation-level meetings in the Pakistani capital as well as one-on-one discussions with the prime minister, president, army chief, chairman senate and speaker national assembly.

He also witnessed the signing of eight MoUs and agreements covering different fields including trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters. These include an MoU on the establishment of the Rimdan-Gabd Joint Free/Special Zone; on cooperation between the Ministry of Cooperative Labour and Social Welfare of Iran and the Ministry of Overseas Pakistani and Human Resources Development of Pakistan; on judicial assistance and legal cooperation at the ministry levels; on cooperation for animal hygiene and health; on mutual recognition in the field of quarantine and phytosanitary; and on the promotion of culture and films.

“The economic and trade volume between Iran and Pakistan is not acceptable at all and we have decided at the first step to increase the trade volume between our two countries to $10 billion,” Raisi said at a joint press conference with Sharif.

The interior ministers of Pakistan and Iran also met on Monday and discussed border management to prevent smuggling and drugs trafficking, and “decided in principle to ban terrorist organizations in their respective countries,” state news wire APP said.

Governor Punjab Muhammad Balighur Rehman (right) shakes hands with the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Lahore, Pakistan on April 23, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

“The two sides agreed on a joint plan of action to deal with the menace of terrorism being a common problem, with further improving mutual support and exchange of intelligence information.”

A security agreement regarding this decision would be signed “at the earliest,” APP added.

Pakistan and Iran have had a history of rocky relations despite a number of commercial pacts, with Islamabad being historically closer to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Their highest profile agreement is a stalled gas supply deal signed in 2010 to build a pipeline from Iran’s South Fars gas field to Pakistan’s southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.

Pakistan and Iran are also often at odds over instability on their shared porous border, with both countries routinely trading blame for not rooting out militancy.

Tensions surged in January when Pakistan and Iran exchanged airstrikes, both claiming to target alleged militant hideouts in each other’s countries. Both sides have since then undertaken peace overtures and restored bilateral ties.

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

Updated 10 sec ago

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

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

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

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

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.