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.

ICC includes Pakistani legends Wasim, Waqar and Ramiz in World Cup commentary panel

Updated 7 sec ago

ICC includes Pakistani legends Wasim, Waqar and Ramiz in World Cup commentary panel

  • Wasim Akram and Ramiz Raja are former World Cup winners who will share expert analysis during T20 World Cup 2024
  • Veterans Ravi Shastri, Nasser Hussain, Ian Smith, Mel Jones, Harsha Bhogle and Ian Bishop to lead commentary team

ISLAMABAD: The International Cricket Council (ICC) recently announced it has roped in Pakistani cricket legends Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Ramiz Raja as members of a star-studded commentary panel for next month’s T20 World Cup to share their insights and expert analysis during matches. 

The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, scheduled to kick off from June 1-29, will feature 20 teams across the world compete for the trophy. The tournament will be hosted for the first time partly in the United States while the West Indies will also host some matches of the tournament.

In a post on Sunday, the ICC said the commentary panel would be led by veterans such as Ravi Shastri, Nasser Hussain, Ian Smith, Mel Jones, Harsha Bhogle and Ian Bishop. Former men’s and women’s T20 World Cup champions Dinesh Karthik, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Samuel Badree, Carlos Brathwaite, Steve Smith, Aaron Finch and Lisa Sthalekar will also add insights to the game during the matches. 

“Former 50-over World Cup winners Ricky Ponting, Sunil Gavaskar, Matthew Hayden, Ramiz Raja, Eoin Morgan, Tom Moody and Wasim Akram will also be lending their expert analysis to the upcoming tournament,” the ICC said. 

The global cricket body said other big names part of the commentary team are Pakistan’s Younis, Dale Steyn, Graeme Smith, Michael Atherton, Simon Doull, Shaun Pollock and Katey Martin. Renowned names in broadcasting such as Mpumelelo Mbangwa, Natalie Germanos, Danny Morrison, Alison Mitchell, Alan Wilkins, Brian Murgatroyd, Mike Haysman, Ian Ward, Athar Ali Khan, Russel Arnold, Niall O’Brien, Kass Naidoo and former West Indies skipper Daren Ganga will also be part of the commentary team.

ICC will provide extensive coverage of the tournament across the 28 days of action with a pre-match show, an innings interval program and a post-match wrap-up.

The T20 World Cup is being seen by the ICC as a launch pad toward the sport’s return to the Olympics for Los Angeles 2028. The ninth edition of the tournament, in the fastest and most explosive form of the game, will be the biggest ever after the decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to expand the field from 16 nations to 20.

Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Oman are among nations relatively new to the big stage who will be looking to make their mark and grab attention with an upset win or two during the tournament.

Groups for T20 World Cup 2024

Group A: India, Pakistan, Ireland, Canada, United States

Group B: England, Australia, Namibia, Scotland, Oman

Group C: New Zealand, West Indies, Afghanistan, Uganda, Papua New Guinea

Group D: South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Netherlands, Nepal

Police in Pakistan’s Sargodha finalize ‘hyper security’ arrangements for churches following mob attack 

Updated 37 min 22 sec ago

Police in Pakistan’s Sargodha finalize ‘hyper security’ arrangements for churches following mob attack 

  • Angry mob attacked Christians in Pakistan’s eastern Sargodha district over blasphemy allegations 
  • Over 1,000 police officers and youths performing duties at key churches in Sargodha district, say police

ISLAMABAD: Police in Pakistan’s eastern Sargodha district said recently it has finalized “hyper security” arrangements at churches following last week’s mob attack against the Christian community that left one person critically injured. 

Violence erupted in Sargodha city on Saturday when a furious mob targeted members of the Christian community after some people accused their Christian neighbor of desecrating the Holy Qur’an. The house and a small shoemaking factory owned and operated by the man were burned down in the ensuing rampage, which was followed by police action that led to clashes with angry protesters.

The incident came within a year after another attack on the Christian community in August 2023, when a mob in Jaranwala city burned churches and targeted several houses in a similar incident involving blasphemy allegations.

“Sargodha police have completed arrangements for the hyper security of churches across the district,” Sargodha Police wrote on social media platform X. It added that over 1,000 police officers and youths were performing duties at important churches in the district. 

Saturday’s attack was condemned by rights activists and Pakistan’s leading human rights body, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Pakistani Christian rights activists protested against the attack on Saturday in Karachi, raising alarm over the safety of minorities in the South Asian country. 

“As a 27-year-old Pakistani Christian who has never been abroad since the day I was born to the moment I’m standing here, I and every Christian who calls themselves Pakistani live under fear, under pressure and under the constant threat of being, God forbid, accused of committing blasphemy,” Luke Victor, a rights activist and one of the organizers of the Karachi demonstration, said. 

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam have provoked deadly vigilantism.

Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.
Politicians have also been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.

38,150 Pakistani pilgrims under government scheme reach Saudi Arabia for Hajj 

Updated 27 May 2024

38,150 Pakistani pilgrims under government scheme reach Saudi Arabia for Hajj 

  • Around 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform the annual Islamic pilgrimage 
  • Pakistan began a month-long pre-Hajj flight operation to transport pilgrims to Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Around 38,150 Pakistani pilgrims under the government’s Hajj scheme have arrived in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah ahead of this year’s annual Islamic pilgrimage, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported this week. 

This year, around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both the government and private schemes, for which a month-long flight operation started on May 9. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14-19.

“By Sunday, collectively as many as 38,150 Pakistani pilgrims, which constitutes almost 54.35 percent of the total, have reached Madinah and Makkah,” the APP report said on Sunday, citing sources in the Pakistan Hajj Mission. 

From May 17, the Pakistan Hajj Mission started sending bus caravans of pilgrims to Makkah from Madinah after they completed their eight-day stay in Madinah. Over 23,464 Pakistani pilgrims have reached Makkah from Madinah under a real-time GPS tracking system, APP said, adding that it is for the first time that the service is being utilized to track the movement of Hajj caravans. 

“This innovative approach aims to ensure a seamless and timely journey for the pilgrims,” Shahid Ur Rehman Marth, who is in-charge of the Madinah Departure Cell, told APP. 

Meanwhile, pilgrims from all over the world including Pakistan, visited the sacred cave of Hira at the mountain of Al-Noor in Makkah. 
The site is a revered one for Muslims around the world as it is the place where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received the first verses of the Holy Qur’an from God. 
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime, provided they are financially and physically able to do so.
Pilgrims from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi are availing the Makkah Route Initiative facility for the first time. Launched in 2019, the initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure. 
This makes it possible to bypass long immigration and customs checks upon reaching Saudi Arabia, which significantly reduces the waiting time and makes the entry process smoother and faster. 

Palestinian medics say Israeli airstrikes on refugee camp in Rafah kills 35

Updated 27 May 2024

Palestinian medics say Israeli airstrikes on refugee camp in Rafah kills 35

  • The attacks came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah
  • Israel’s army confirmed the strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip: Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people Sunday and hit tents for displaced people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, and “numerous” others were trapped in flaming debris. Gaza’s Health Ministry said women and children made up most of the dead and dozens of wounded.

The attacks came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population had sought shelter before Israel’s incursion earlier this month. Tens of thousands of people remain in the area while many others have fled.
Footage from the scene of the largest airstrike showed heavy destruction. Israel’s army confirmed the strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. It said it was investigating reports that civilians were harmed. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was in Rafah on Sunday and was briefed on the “deepening of operations” there, his office said.

A Palestinian wounded in an Israeli bombardment on the Gaza Strip is brought to Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on May 26, 2024. (AP) 

A spokesperson with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the death toll was likely to rise as search and rescue efforts continued in Rafah’s Tal Al-Sultan neighborhood about two kilometers (1.2 miles) northwest of the city center.
The society asserted that the location had been designated by Israel as a “humanitarian area.” The neighborhood is not included in areas that Israel’s military ordered evacuated earlier this month.
The airstrike was reported hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza that set off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv for the first time in months in a show of resilience more than seven months into Israel’s massive air, sea and ground offensive.
There were no reports of casualties in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January. Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility. Israel’s military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from Rafah and “a number” were intercepted, and the launcher was destroyed.
Earlier Sunday, dozens of aid trucks entered Gaza from southern Israel under a new agreement to bypass the Rafah crossing with Egypt after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of it earlier this month. Israel’s military said 126 aid trucks entered via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing.
But it was not immediately clear if humanitarian groups could access the aid — including medical supplies — because of fighting. The crossing has been largely inaccessible because of Israel’s offensive in Rafah. United Nations agencies say it is usually too dangerous to retrieve the aid. The World Health Organization last week said an expanded Israeli incursion in Rafah would have “disastrous” impact.”
“With the humanitarian operation near collapse, the secretary-general emphasizes that the Israeli authorities must facilitate the safe pickup and delivery of humanitarian supplies from Egypt entering Kerem Shalom,” the spokesperson for UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians. It agreed to temporarily divert traffic through Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s main cargo terminal, after a call between US President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
The war between Israel and Hamas has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count. Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants operate in dense, residential areas.
Around 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.
Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must take over Rafah to eliminate Hamas’ remaining battalions and achieve “total victory” over the militants, who recently regrouped in other parts of Gaza.
The war has also heightened tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian authorities on Sunday said Israeli forces shot dead a 14-year-old boy near the southern West Bank town of Saeer. The Israeli army said the Palestinian male was shot dead after trying to stab Israeli forces at Beit Einun Junction.
Southern Gaza largely cut off from aid
Southern Gaza has been largely cut off from aid since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion into Rafah on May 6. Since then over 1 million Palestinians, many already displaced, have fled the city.
Northern Gaza receives aid through two land routes that Israel opened during global outrage after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in April.
A few dozen trucks enter Gaza daily through a US-built floating pier, far below the 150 trucks a day that officials hoped for. Aid groups say 600 trucks a day are needed.
Israeli man detained over mutiny threat
Israel’s military said it had detained a suspect over a widely circulated video in which a man dressed as a soldier threatens mutiny. The man says tens of thousands of soldiers were ready to disobey the defense minister over his suggestion that Palestinians should govern Gaza after the war, and pledged loyalty to Netanyahu alone.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the man has been removed from reserve duty. It was not clear when or where the video was made. The prime minister’s office released a brief statement condemning all forms of military insubordination.

Pakistan’s Hajj mission enforces ‘zero tolerance policy’ for negligence by assistants

Updated 27 May 2024

Pakistan’s Hajj mission enforces ‘zero tolerance policy’ for negligence by assistants

  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam, required to be undertaken by every able Muslim at least once
  • Pakistan is due to send as many as 550 Hajj assistants to Saudi Arabia by the end of this month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Hajj mission has enforced a “zero tolerance policy” for negligence on the part of hundreds of assistants appointed to facilitate local pilgrims during the annual pilgrimage, Pakistani state media reported on Sunday, citing a senior official.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year. Of them, 63,805 pilgrims will be performing the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest would be accommodated by private tour operators, according to the Pakistani religious affairs ministry.
This year, Pakistan is due to send 550 Hajj assistants and 400 doctors and paramedical staff to Saudi Arabia to make sure the whole process, including their food, transportation and accommodation in the Kingdom, is managed efficiently.
“Zero tolerance policy is being observed for supporting staff (Mouvineen) in their duties to serve the intending pilgrims,” the Radio Pakistan broadcaster quoted Asghar Ali Yusufzai, the Pakistan Hajj mission director for accommodation and transport of pilgrims, as saying at a press conference in Makkah.
“An effective system has been put in place to evaluate the performance of Hajj supporting staff and service providers, who are duty-bound to serve intending Pakistani Hajj pilgrims.”
Yusufzai emphasized that the policy applied to both Pakistan-based assistants or contractors, who were hired to provide accommodation, food and transportation to Pakistani pilgrims.
The Hajj mission has rented 141 residential buildings in three localities, including Al-Azizia, Batha Quraish and Al-Naseem neighborhoods, according to the official.
More than 270 latest buses have been arranged for the movement of Pakistani pilgrims from the airport to their accommodations, for five-time prayer in the Grand Mosque and for other Hajj-related travel between Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah.
Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage that has been in practice for over 1,400 years. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime, if they are financially and physically able. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.
In the first phase of Pakistan’s pre-Hajj flight operation, a total of 34,316 Pakistanis reached Madinah by May 23 through 146 flights, according to Pakistani authorities.
As many as 114 flights will be transporting another 34,422 Pakistanis to Jeddah till June 9.