Pakistan says will reconstitute panel on ‘enforced disappearances’ after US report points out rights abuses

Pakistani human rights activists protest in support of missing persons on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in Islamabad on August 30, 2015. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistan says will reconstitute panel on ‘enforced disappearances’ after US report points out rights abuses

  • Pakistan has long been plagued by disappearances of political workers, rights activists and professionals
  • Families say people picked up by security forces often disappear for years, security agencies deny involvement

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will be reconstituting a committee to address the longstanding issue of “enforced disappearances,” Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said on Tuesday, hours after the release of a US report highlighting rights abuses in the South Asian country.

Over the years, hundreds of political workers, rights activists and professionals have gone missing in Pakistan, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern Balochistan provinces, where militants have waged a war against the state for decades.

Families say people picked up by security forces often disappear for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistani security agencies deny involvement in such disappearances.

Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Tarar noted the former Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government had formed a committee on the issue with the representation of all stakeholders.

“Now the work is being initiated on this again on the directives of the prime minister. A committee is going to be reconstituted, there will be parliamentary presence in that committee,” he said. “There is no lack of seriousness on the government’s part to resolve this issue.”

The minister said they visited the Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, met with stakeholders there as well as reviewed reports on the matter from the tenure of the caretaker government.

Tarar said 10,200 cases of “missing persons” had been registered in the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIoED), out of which around 8,000 cases had been addressed.

He, however, said the issued could not be resolved “overnight,” adding that there had been no “concrete evidence” of the involvement of state agencies in these cases.

The law minister’s comments came hours after a report released by the US State Department said Pakistan’s government “rarely” took steps to identify and punish officials who may have been involved in rights abuses in 2023, pointing out incidents of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, violence against journalists and restrictions on media freedom.

“The government rarely took credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses,” the State Department said, pointing out Pakistan last year had seen incidents of restrictions on freedom of expression and media, violence against journalists, unjustified arrests, disappearances of journalists, censorship and criminal defamation laws.

Pakistan’s actions in recent months to restrict Internet and mobile services throughout the country, especially on days when elections are held, have invited criticism from rights organizations and Washington.

The interior ministry last week confirmed it had banned social media platform X in February to protect national security, maintain public order, and preserve the country’s “integrity.”

The South Asian country has seen an uptick in violence, mainly suicide attacks, since November 2022 when a fragile truce between militants and the state broke down.

Pakistan has since then carried out military operations against the Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and a Baloch separatist militant organization, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) in the country’s two western provinces that border Afghanistan.


Pakistanis among hundreds of foreign students flee Kyrgyzstan after mob attack

Updated 6 sec ago
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Pakistanis among hundreds of foreign students flee Kyrgyzstan after mob attack

  • Hundreds of Kyrgyz men stormed a hostel in Bishkek on May 17 and attacked foreign students because of an earlier brawl
  • The Pakistani government has arranged extra flights leaving daily from Bishkek and many students are using the opportunity

BISHKEK: Students from Pakistan and other Asian countries are leaving Kyrgyzstan by the hundreds after an angry mob attacked their living quarters this month, although some hope to return when the situation calms down.
Hundreds of Kyrgyz young men stormed a hostel in capital Bishkek in the early hours of May 17 and attacked foreign students there because of a brawl that happened between several Kyrgyz men and foreigners a few days earlier.
Police, although present, were unable to stop the violence.
“They invaded our... hostel and it was a terrifying moment for all of us and it was the worst nightmare,” said Imran Yousaf, a pathologist at the International University Kyrgyzstan.
He said that despite the students’ attempts to barricade entrances and hide, the attackers beat up and assaulted several students including some women.
“We were very much surprised and we were so much mentally traumatized at that time when people came in,” Yousaf said. “I don’t know what kind of provocateur is responsible for that kind of hatred among them.”
The government of Pakistan has arranged extra flights leaving daily from Bishkek and many students are using the opportunity to return home, at least temporarily.
Medical schools of Kyrgyzstan have over the last few decades become popular among aspiring doctors from India, Pakistan and some other Asian and Arab countries, in part thanks to relatively affordable fees and living expenses.
The Kyrgyz government has sought to allay foreign students’ fears and held meetings with their leaders, said Yousaf, who expressed hope that those who are leaving will return in a few months. Police have detained more than a dozen of the suspected attackers.
“The government of Kyrgyzstan has taken beautiful steps,.. our student council was invited to the parliament of Kyrgyzstan, along with the President, there was a one-on-one meeting, and I hope, Inshallah (God willing), with hope in my eyes and logic on my back, that this situation will dampen in the days to come,” Yousaf said.
“I am saying to all my friends, don’t think that Kyrgyzstan is bad,” said another student, Hamza Yasin.


Pakistan welcomes Ireland, Spain, and Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state

Updated 10 min 55 sec ago
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Pakistan welcomes Ireland, Spain, and Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state

  • Ireland, Spain and Norway have said will formally recognize Palestinian state from May 28
  • This followed recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to grant Palestine full membership of the world body and welcomed Ireland, Spain and Norway’s announcement they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28.
The prime ministers of the three countries made the announcement on Wednesday, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.
Speaking at a weekly press briefing, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign office, said her country welcomed the recent announcements on recognition for Palestine as a state.
“The State of Palestine is now recognized by an overwhelming majority of UN member states,” she told reporters in Islamabad. “Time has therefore come to accord full membership to the State of Palestine at the United Nations and other international organizations as called for by the UN General Assembly in its recent resolution.”
Baloch reiterated Pakistan’s call to the UN Security Council to “move positively in that direction.”
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.
“These recent announcements serve as another milestone in the decades-long quest of the people of Palestine for their right to self-determination,” she said.
“The Gaza genocide and the entire humanitarian situation there have underlined the urgency of moving toward the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.”
The statement came as the top UN court was due to rule on a plea to halt the offensive in Gaza over accusations of a “genocide,” amid continuing Israeli military offensive.
Israel launched its war on Gaza after Hamas’s unprecedented attacks on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians. Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has since killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
UAE INVESTMENT

Baloch also spoke about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday committing $10 billion to invest in promising economic sectors as Pakistan pushes for foreign investment in a bid to shore up its $350 billion economy, which has struggled with high inflation and low growth as it navigates a tough reforms mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif paid an official visit to the United Arab of Emirates] yesterday [Thursday] at the invitation of the President of the UAE His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan,” Baloch told reporters.
“The prime minister held a bilateral meeting with the president and held meetings with UAE investors and entrepreneurs.”
She said the two leaders underscored the importance of “galvanizing cooperation and strategic partnership,” particularly in the fields of information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and tourism. 
“They reaffirmed their commitment to ensure meaningful implementation of investment cooperation agreements in the area of energy, port operation projects, wastewater treatment, food security, logistics, minerals, banking and financial services, signed in November 2023,” Baloch added.
“His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan assured UAE’s support in all circumstances and made commitment of investing $10 billion dollars in multiple sectors in Pakistan.”


Government runs awareness campaign as Pakistan in grips of ‘severe’ heat wave

Updated 7 min 33 sec ago
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Government runs awareness campaign as Pakistan in grips of ‘severe’ heat wave

  • First wave to last till May 30, second to begin from June 7-8 followed by third one in last week of June 
  • Heat wave to persist in Sindh province until June 3, to break in Punjab after June 4, Met office says

ISLAMABAD: The federal government is running an awareness campaign in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) amid an ongoing heat wave this month, state-run media reported as the Pakistan Meteorological Department predicted day-time temperatures to “remain above normal” in June also. 
Pakistan has been experiencing severe climatic changes due to global warming in recent years which has led to frequent heat waves, untimely rains and droughts.
On May 21, authorities had urged people to stay indoors ahead of a heat wave which is expected to last until the end of the month. An estimated 18 million students are also unable to attend classes because Pakistan’s most populous province Punjab ordered shutting down schools this month due to rising temperatures.
Chief Meteorologist Dr. Sardar Sarfaraz has also warned that the heat wave would “intensify” from May 23 onwards.
“Ministry of Climate Change and the NDMA are spreading mass awareness for the public through adopting preventive measures and to reduce its impacts through issuing adviseries, public service messages, ring back tone and awareness campaigns through television, radio and social media platforms,” Radio Pakistan reported.
Addressing a press conference, the Prime Minister’s Coordinator on Climate Change Romina Khurshid Alam said 26 districts of the country were in the grips of a heat wave since May 21. 
Alam said the first wave would last till May 30, the second would begin from June 7-8 and the third one in the last week of June. 
May and June were recorded as the “hottest and driest” with higher monthly average temperatures, she added, appealing to the masses, especially children and elderly, to adopt preventive measures.
She noted that the severity of heat waves had increased rapidly during the past few months with 13 districts of Sindh, nine of Punjab and four districts of Balochistan experiencing “severe heat.”
“Global warming is impacting the entire world, and we are seeing its effects in the form of these frequent and intense heat waves,” the official said, blaming deforestation and unsustainable environmental practices for the harsh weather conditions. 
“Public awareness campaigns through various media outlets are ongoing to educate people on the health risks and preventive measures.”
Alam said heat waves were accelerating the process of glacier melting and the risk of forest fires, advising the public to remain cautious in national parks, avoid discarding cigarette butts, leave vehicle windows slightly open, and ensure access to drinking water.
“NO RESPITE”
The NDMA is also urging people to stay hydrated and wear light-colored clothing to minimize the effects of heat and farmers to carry out agricultural activities keeping in mind the prevalent weather conditions. 
Met Department data showed Jacobabad, Dadu and Mohenjo Daro as the hottest places across the country, with temperature in these cities surging from 49°C on Wednesday to 50°C on Thursday. 
“The cities of Jacobabad, Dadu and Mohenjo Daro are known to have 50°C in May. Jacobabad had 52°C in April in 2022,” the chief meteorologist said.
“Harsh weather is likely to persist at least till June 3. There is no possibility for respite, at least for Sindh. The heat spell may break in parts of Punjab but that, too, after June 4.”
Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. A deadly heat wave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.
In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.


Lahore, Islamabad courts challenge Pakistan media regulator’s ban on reportage of court cases

Updated 24 May 2024
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Lahore, Islamabad courts challenge Pakistan media regulator’s ban on reportage of court cases

  • PEMRA ban came amid tensions between government, courts over alleged kidnapping of poet Ahmad Farhad 
  • Farhad’s family says he was abducted from his home on May 14 by officials from the military’s ISI spy agency 

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore and Islamabad high courts on Friday issued notices to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) while hearing petitions challenging a ban by the regulator on TV channels airing news, opinions and commentary on proceedings of ongoing court cases.
PEMRA announced the ban on Tuesday amid tensions between the government and the Islamabad High Court over hearings into the alleged kidnapping of Kashmiri poet Ahmad Farhad from outside his home on May 14. The poet’s family has filed a case with the IHC and accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of being behind his disappearance over social media posts critical of the military. The army has not commented on the development or the accusations by the family. 
Pakistan media had been extensively reporting on the hearings of the case this week, with the high court directing authorities to produce the missing poet within four days and fiercely criticizing intelligence agencies for overstepping their jurisdiction.
“The Lahore High Court (LHC), during the hearing of pleas conducted by Justice Abid Aziz Shaikh, also ordered the electronic media watchdog to respond to its notice on May 29,” Pakistan’s Geo News reported. Multiple other Pakistani news websites also reported that the LHC and IHC had sent notices to PEMRA over the ban.
Petitioners against the PEMRA ban have said it is in violation of Article 10-A, 19 and 19-A of the constitution of Pakistan, which pertain to the right to a fair trial as well as freedom of speech and right to information. One of the pleas also requested the court to reject the prosecutor’s plea and declare it “inadmissible” and the PEMRA notification “null and void.”
Petitions challenging the ban have been filed in the Sindh, Lahore and Islamabad high courts as well as the Supreme Court.
Journalists in Pakistan are increasingly reporting on growing media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for putting pressure on critical voices. The military has repeatedly denied it suppresses the press. 
“TV channels are directed to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and shall only report the written orders of the court,” the PEMRA notification said on Tuesday. 
The regulator also directed TV channels to air “no content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal.”
However, PEMRA allowed TV channels to report on court proceedings if they were broadcast live by the judiciary.


Pakistan approves $8 million to pay severance packages of PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York

Updated 18 min 44 sec ago
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Pakistan approves $8 million to pay severance packages of PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York

  • Pakistan’s national airline bought the Roosevelt Hotel in 1999 for $36.5 million 
  • Islamabad is pushing for privatization of state entities for a fresh IMF bailout

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Thursday approved $8 million to pay severance packages of the Pakistan International Airlines-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York, Pakistani state media reported, amid the South Asian country’s push for privatization of state entities.
The development came at an ECC meeting presided over by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, during which the Ministry of Aviation presented a summary to allow the utilization of $8 million available with National Bank of Pakistan to pay severance packages of the establishment.
Roosevelt Hotel, a 19-story building located at a prime location in New York, was inaugurated in Manhattan on September 22, 1924. Named after the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, Pakistan’s national airline leased it in 1979 through the Pakistan International Airlines Investments Limited (PIA-IL). 
Saudi Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud was also one of the investors in the 1979 investment deal, though the PIA decided to buy the hotel for $36.5 million in 1999 and later struck a deal with its Saudi partner in 2005 to buy his share in the property as well. 
“The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Thursday approved $8 million to pay severance packages and operational expenses of the Roosevelt Hotel,” the state-run APP news agency reported.
In 2021, the government of then prime minister Imran Khan had allowed the release of $27.3 million for the payment of liabilities accumulated by the hotel, which permanently closed its door on October 31, 2020, after remaining operational since 1924.
A year earlier, it had also approved $142 million for the PIA-IL last year to meet the hotel’s financial challenges.
The $8 million severance grant comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization and reforms in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as it negotiates with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a fresh bailout program, for which Islamabad must implement an ambitious reforms agenda, including the privatization of debt-ridden SOEs.
Among the main entities Pakistan is pushing to privatize is its national flag carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), while the government is putting on the block a stake ranging from 51 percent to 100 percent.
The South Asian country, which has been facing low foreign exchange reserves, currency devaluation and high inflation, last month completed a short-term $3 billion IMF program that helped stave off a sovereign default, but the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has stressed the need for a fresh, longer-term program to keep the $350 billion economy afloat.